Archive for the ‘Bamboo, mostly’ Category

The grove over the last few weeks has been coming into new leaf. Here, from a photo taken a fortnight ago, you can see the bare new culms, topping the older ones which have shed some of their old green for the spring burst.

You can also see again how the awkward transition to mature grove is hard on the late-adolescent culms of a previous year. Having poured their energy into sending up newer and bigger culms, many will soon lose their light.

I complain. But, really, it’s exciting.


It should be clear, if you’ve read previous posts, that I know nothing about horticulture or bamboo in general. I’m besotted with moso, and fostering moso on my land is what I do. This means I work in isolation, and have developed my own ideas about what works. As to whether I’m right, clearly I’m right about something, because I have a large and healthy acreage of moso, with culms to rival those of Asia. However, I’m in the position of the American businessman who knew half of his advertising did not work – but he did not know which half. A portion of what I am doing is unnecessary, but I don’t know which portion. By adhering to certain policies, I’m getting results: this year saw zero wind damage and only a few animal attacks on huge new shoots. I’m not game to change the formula.

My belief is that moso should not be started on rich flats or even on very “permacultural” swales. It should not be planted out in cleared ground, however sheltered. Strong light and direct heat are the enemies of new shoots and culms. Browsers, wallabies above all, should be repelled by keeping fresh blood-meal on all accessible new shoots, even if there are thousands to be tended. Possum-friendly branches of nearby trees should be cut off, and such trees may need to be possum-proofed, perhaps by heaping spiky bunya pine branches around the trunks. Someone may ignore all these cautions and succeed, but that is how I think on the matter.

This brings me to lantana. It is an official pest in Australia, and should be eliminated. I have no gentle or “natural” solutions to the problem of lantana in pasture or bushland. However…

On the right you see a wall of lantana, on the left you see pioneer moso of this year, which has used the lantana for protection and insulation. Now that the lantana’s useful role is fulfilled, I have trampled down its brittle stems all around my new culms – using this highly specialised equipment:

That’s a wooden plank, used for lantana surfing. I chuck it on to the lantana, then jump aboard to crush the stuff. I have done acres this way.

Does the lantana come back? It does, but providing one continues to walk about the grove and bruise the new leaves, it gradually dwindles to an inconspicuous ground cover which cannot flower or fruit. It is best described as a flimsy bully, throwing out abrasive but fragile stems to ward off intruders. However, it is also an ideal companion plant, and has very few real defenses when trampled or “surfed”: the only thing that stops me clearing quickly is the presence of other woody weeds like tobacco, privet, cassia and cockspur, which are not nearly as brittle and surfable as lantana. [CAUTION: Only lantana is a useful weed in this regard; the sooner you get rid of wild tobacco, privet etc the better. Also, let me repeat: Lantana is an official pest, and I’m only suggesting it may have some unexplored value as a ground-cover and companion plant in very limited circumstances.]

If you do your surfing  right, and with follow-up control, an impassable thicket of lantana will look like this in an amazingly short time, without any digging, cutting or poisoning:


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Look hard at this snap and you’ll see what happens to older culms in a grove approaching maturity.

In a grove’s formative years, the difference in height between one year’s growth and that of the next is not so significant in actual metres. A giant culm, however, can tower several metres above its immediate predecessors. Several in one area will block out the sun for anything branching well below, however large. Now, when a culm is deprived of light, it dies prematurely; consequently, many fine culms in my grove are perishing after only a couple of years. It’s part of a natural and long-desired transition to adult production, yet I’m not happy that some cherished bamboo poles have to die off before a good harvesting age.

None of this matters in the long term, since one wants a forest of adults culms, and that’s now going to happen. But even if those prematurely dead culms can’t be harvested, shouldn’t they be cut and taken away for the sake of neatness?

The answer is this: moso knows what it’s doing. Look harder at the photo above, see the drab lower culms which are leaning and even criss-crossing.

Then consider what is happening through the entire grove during this spring burst. Out on the perimeter, new shoots have grown and branched rapidly.

These scattered pioneers, of moderate size, seldom break in wind. The established part of the grove, however, sends up culms much more slowly and puts a lot more juice into them. These are the towering giants we’ve been talking about, and for some weeks they are tender and very heavy with sap. (How would you like growing to your full lifetime height in under two months?) At the base they are in shelter, but their tops are above everything and exposed to everything, especially to the worst southerly and westerly winds.

If you had to design a perfect support for these tottering monsters, it would be something strong but springy, with the ability to bend and slide while offering just the right amount of resistance, preferably through fine, wiry branchlets…

That’s right! Those seemingly useless dead or dying culms are acting as ideal supports for the new generation of larger culms.

What is good order and economy for tidy humans, may be disorder and waste from the point of view of the plant or animal you are trying to raise.

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At last. A grove coming into maturity in a perfect season. The new culms topping the old, and topping twenty-year-old bunya pines after a mere eight weeks of existence…

This sweaty new giant is vaguely pornographic…

It’s all so cool that I’ve invited a few culms into the yard. I could have eaten this guy when he was a tiny shoot in late September. Instead he can be a pet.

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I eat a lot of these.

They are prepared in any number of ways, as described in previous posts, but lately I’ve been having them as bamboo-shoots-rice or as English pickles for a cheese sandwich.

Nutty and crisp, moso shoots are simply a delicious vegetable which I can enjoy in abundance.

Now it turns out that bamboo shoots, and those of moso (phyllostachys edulis) in particular, are being taken seriously as a source of Chlorogenic acid. This phenol or anti-oxidant, now marketed as the product Svetol, has a role in the dietary treatment of diabetes. Apparently, it slows glucose release.

Chlorogenic acid also has potential in other areas of medicine. This is the kind of thing I usually ignore, but it’s good to know that, once I’ve boiled out the toxic elements from moso shoots, what’s left is doing me some good.

Wiki’s article would suggest it’s not just a fad. There are many other sources of Chlorogenic acid, but moso shoots are the best way to take it on board. So eat ’em up!

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With its six inches of diameter, our five-week-old culm is now the height of many fully grown trees. I’m guessing it’s between twenty-five and thirty feet – but I haven’t checked for some hours.

Most people don’t believe that something can grow like this. Or that in a couple more weeks it will never grow another millimetre in height. Or that it will have a subsequent subterranean and canopy growth as remarkable as its height-spurt.

Everything about moso is extreme, exceptional, radical, ambitious.  Growing moso is like living with a compulsive gambler – but one who usually wins. It’s a ride!

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Remember this guy from less than a fortnight ago?

Well, he’s grown in the last thirteen days.

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The grove is well-established, deserves to be called a forest. So much of its development over twenty years has been through long periods of drought and neglect. Because of its ability to survive and thrive from seedling stage, I’ve long suspected that it really, really belongs here, along the hills between Divide and Pacific. You may need sweet, tallow-wood country – retired dairy country like mine – but that’s available. Contrary to a familiar prejudice, it won’t “get out of control”; but moso is certainly a hungry, ambitious migrant – frustrated in most of the world – that will seize its opportunity in this region.


This isn’t the biggest shoot, but, since I took the photo, it’s bigger still round the base.

Another perspective on another giant, just a few days old. This one is now enormous around the base, and kind of scares me.

The ideal conditions have not produced more shoots, just big ones, which is an ideal development. My guess is that moso here in Dondingalong can achieve its global maximum size.  Hundred foot poles are not out of the question. I have a few patches of red soil where that could come about.

If you look to the right you’ll see a link to a German web site where Europeans who love moso pop in to shriek their delight over a new culm of just a few metres. You might ask: if something can inspire people in a such a pitifully reduced form, how is it possible that, in a place where it can reach a full and stupendous potential, it is little thought about?

There’s no answer to that.

Some of these poles will have trouble with high winds in the vulnerable week when they are at full height but have not branched. The south slope that has been a good, cool nursery to moso is a little too exposed to freak winds now that the culms are towering. Until the grove achieves critical mass, and has poles of equal size to support one another, there will be some breakages.

But what can you say about a species that comes out of the ground in spring, grows to full height in seven weeks, and is ready to be used as a premium timber within five years? A good deal, Australia?


Note these black, plasticky-looking things atop my computer.

In a future post, I’ll talk about my favourite use for moso bamboo. I’ll be talking about…

…bamboo charcoal!

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