Bamboo Bonsai

Why don't you see many bamboo bonsai at exhibits? Is "lucky bamboo" real bonsai?  What is heavenly bamboo?  This page has the answers.

Bamboo is found in both tropical and temperate zones all over the world. There over 10,000 species! None are trees of any kind and are actually in the grass family of plants.

Why don't you see many bamboo bonsai at exhibits? 

The way bamboo grows makes it difficult to create good bonsai. First of all, they are the fastest growing plant in the world, which makes all types hard to control in a container.

Bonsai bamboo in ChinaBamboo bonsai in Baihuatan Park, Chengdu, China

One of the potential problems in styling a bonsai is these plants don't have, what we usually think of as real branches.  In addition, the rhizome root system is unique.

"A rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes."                  Source -Wikipedia

Clumping                                        Running

Despite the number of species, there are basically two types of bamboo, one grows in "clumps" and the other is a "runner." 
When buying these plants, especially when planting them in the ground, always ask which type it is. "Running" bamboo is invasive!

Bamboo forest

Individual stalks only live for a limited number of years, depending on the species.  In a landscape or garden, these dead stalks are cut down and they are soon replaced by new ones.

For this reason, bamboo is most often used in groupings or forests. This way a stalk can often be removed without destroying the composition.  Because of the way the rhizomes grow sideways, sometimes this plant is perfect for shallow containers. 

This shallow pot known as a suiban ... has no holes in it. (This type of container is often used in Ikebanathe Japanese art of flower arranging, rarely for bonsai.)  

The substantial root system of bamboo is fine with this ability to hold water. It will help keep it moist in a small amount of soil.  Look closely and you will see the beautiful carved "feet" raising the pot off the ground.

These are Not  Bamboo Bonsai

Dracaena sanderiana

"Lucky Bamboo"  is Dracaena sanderiana.   It is not in the bambusa family. 

It is a plant that grows easily indoors, and has become very popular. Sometimes they are sold growing in water.  They will live for a limited amount of time this way.  However, you will have better success when planted in soil.

It can be attractive, and sometimes even fun, but "Lucky Bamboo" is not bonsai, nor bamboo.

Bamboo yes, Bonsai no

This red pot holds an interesting bamboo.  It is considered a novelty plant, not a bonsai. Shapes like this are man-made as the plant grows. 

Again, remember, being in a bonsai pot, doesn't make it a bonsai. 

"Heavenly bamboo" is Nandina domestica

Some consider the segmented stems of older Nandina plants to resemble bamboo, it is not.  

It is occasionally used as an accent, or companion plant, when displayed in bonsai exhibits.

This 'Heavenly Bamboo' belongs to Jim Lewis, North Carolina.

Bamboo Care

  • Placement - Best outdoors, but will grow indoors with enough light.  (Know whether you have a tropical or temperate variety) 
  • Water - Keep moist.  Dries out quickly. Check often.
  • Trimming - Trim dead leaves often and trim roots most likely once a year. It may be more often in tropics.
  • Pests - Bamboo is prone to red spider mites, especially indoors.  Scale is also fond of this plant.

Where to go From Here

 Types of Bonsai

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