A World of Bamboo
Dozens of short varieties of bamboo are suitable for Arkansas. Some are evergreen, withstanding sub-zero temperatures with little damage to the leaves. Others die back in Zone 6 and 7 winters and should be treated as deciduous perennials. This is true of many of the dwarf bamboos, which can be sheared to the ground in late winter. All short bamboo can survive hard freezes, looking attractive through the fall long after other plants have succumbed to winter. The heights listed in the following descriptions are based on trials in Northwest Arkansas (Zone 6) and are being updated yearly. If you grow bamboo in Zones 7 or 8, you could expect taller growth, faster maturity and less winter damage. Pleioblastus distichus and Pleioblastus pygmaeus both have small green leaves. They grow between one and two feet tall so are useful as groundcovers. By occasional trimming to the ground, these will stay short, making a good substitute for lawns in shady sites. Pleioblastus fortunei, the dwarf whitestripe bamboo, is a delicately variegated species. Growing to two feet tall, it can provide a bright highlight in a shady spot.
There are many other Pleioblastus species that are garden worthy. Some, such as Pleioblastus viridistriatus, known for its bright spring growth, are desirable ornamentals that remain under three feet. Others, Pleioblastus simonii for instance, can grow over ten feet tall, so don’t neatly fall into the dwarf category.
Another variegated dwarf is Sasaella masamuneana albostriata. With long leaves and bold variegation, this bamboo is outstanding in the fall garden. It has also proven to be very hardy, holding its leaves in the worst winters. At about two feet tall and a moderate spreader, it makes a handsome groundcover.
The Sasas are bamboos of medium height, usually growing between two and five feet tall in Zone 6. They are known for their large palm-like leaves supported on the tips of thin culms. Sasa palmata is the most common member of this genus. This aggressive grower must be careful sited or contained.
Sasa veitchii, a shorter, slower growing species, is easily identified by its winter color. Chlorophyll recedes from the edges of the leaves, creating pseudo-variegation that is striking in the winter garden.
Indocalamus tessellatus has the largest leaves of the hardy bamboos. Forming a handsome mound, this plant seems to cascade as it grows. A Chinese native, it grows to three to five feet tall. This is an excellent specimen plant for a shady site. Shibataea kumasaca is a Japanese bamboo that forms a thick hedge up to six feet tall. “Kumasaca” is a Japanese word that literally translates to “field of short bamboo”. Known as the ruscus-leafed bamboo, it has short wide leaves densely born on narrow culms. This is one of the hardiest short species, tolerant of severe cold and wind chill with minimal damage to the leaves.
Thought to be a naturally occurring hybrid, Hibanobambusa tranquillans ‘Shiroshima’, is of Japanese origin. Broad cream bands create stunning leaf variegation, making it desirable for containers or the garden. It has grown to six feet in Zone 6 and tolerates more sun than most short bamboo.
Pseudosasa japonica, the arrow bamboo, is a taller variety that can tolerate bright shade. Growing up to sixteen or more feet, the arrow bamboo is a moderate spreader. The culms, which are straight and erect, were used to make arrows in ancient Japan.
One cultivar, Pseudosasa j. ‘Tsutsumiana’, is also a handsome, shade-tolerant species. It is said to grow up to eighteen feet, but in Northern Arkansas, it will probably stay under six to eight feet. Known as the Green Onion bamboo, the culms’ internodes swell slightly, giving it an unusual ornamental appearance.
All timber bamboos can be grown in Arkansas. Some that are sensitive to Zone 6 would be suited to southern Arkansas. Others are quite hardy even in Zone 5; many are evergreen in severe weather.
Phyllostachys is a genus with over 80 species and cultivars now available in the United States. Known for their large culms, some varieties have grown to thirty feet in the Ozarks and can achieve heights of over sixty feet in the south. These bamboos usually prefer full sun although some variegated species can tolerate some shade.
One species often seen in roadside patches is the Yellow Groove bamboo. An exceptionally hardy species, Phyllostachys aureosulcata is often evergreen, wilting in only the worst of winters. In our trials, culms have grown to a height of twenty-five feet and have a diameter of one and one-half inches.
Other cultivars of the yellow bamboo are equally hardy. Phyllostachys a. spectabilis has bright yellow culms with vertical green stripes. It makes a handsome specimen when mature. Phyllostachys a. aureocaulis has culms that are golden in color with very few green stripes.
Phyllostachys rubromarginata is another large bamboo tolerant of cold, dry wind. It was the fastest growing bamboo in USDA trials in Zone 8. In colder climates, it has a tendency to form dense clumps before slowly spreading.
Phyllostachys dulcis is also a good choice for colder regions. It is known for quickly forming large diameter culms, which can be up to two and a half inches in diameter. It is one of the best bamboos to harvest for food, hence its name, Sweetshoot bamboo.
Phyllostachys nuda is one of the hardiest species and can reach heights of over thirty feet. The black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra, is not quite as hardy but makes an attractive ornamental. Over the course of several months to a year the new green culms turn a handsome black color.
David Bissett’s bamboo, Phyllostachys bissettii, has proven to be the fastest spreader in our trials. A shorter species that grows to about twenty feet, it has small dark green leaves.
Semiarundinarias are a small genus of attractive bamboos. They grown between twenty and thirty feet tall and prefer a sunny site. The Temple bamboo, Semiarundinaria fastuosa, is a handsome species with large leaves and erect culms. Our young collection of bamboo in the Ozarks is a haven for the birds. Juncos have settled in for the winter, and cardinals and wrens hide in the thick hedge, whispering anxiously when we walk by. The hardwood leaves have fallen, leaving dark green patches of bamboo to dominate the landscape.
After the quiet of winter, we enjoy the new burst of bamboo each spring. Each year there are new surprises, robust growth and much to learn about this mysterious plant. We like having bamboo in the yard and are always seeing something new in this diverse family. It is our hope that bamboo will be a better understood plant, enjoyed for it beauty, appreciated for its strength and usefulness and given a prominent place in the home or garden, a place it truly deserves.