It is difficult to describe the flowering process in absolute terms for all bamboos, but I think it's safe to say that for the temperate clumping bamboos in the genus Fargesia, a flowering event ends with the death of the plant, and eventually for all of the plants of that species.
Fargesia nitida close up - click to enlarge
In the case of Fargesia murielae, it took about a decade for all of the various clones in Europe and the U.S. to flower and die out. With F. nitida, flowering continues today, 16 years after the first reports of F. nitida flowering in 1993.1
What Triggers Flowering?
Fargesia nitida flowering in 2005
I have never heard or read a concrete explanation of what exactly triggers a flowering event, just that it happens, and for Fargesias, that you can't stop it. My own plant started flowering in February 2005, and was at death's door by 2007. With F. nitida, the generation that is now flowering was grown from seed collected in the 1880's2
, so it's a very good bet that the flowering cycle for this bamboo is over 100 years. The flowers of F. nitida are similar to other grasses, and the fruit is a caryopsis, or "grain". Bamboo seeds are notorious for having a low germination rate, being difficult to raise as seedlings, and very slow to establish (click on the pics to view a larger image).
A Seed Story
Since I don't have the patience to, or the desire for starting bamboo seeds, I mailed a package of fresh seeds to my friend Bill Hollenback, who has trialed and killed
more varieties of bamboos in the Eastern WA desert than I own
in my entire collection. I figured if Bill could get a plant to grow from seed in his climate, it would be a plant worth having in the landscape. It is essential to stratify (refrigerate) the seeds of F. nitida if you want to achieve decent germination rates. So Bill performed the required cold treatment, and did manage to germinate several of the seeds in 2006. However, even in a greenhouse environment (especially if the greenhouse blows away in a wind storm) the merciless winters proved too harsh for most of the seedlings. Talking to Bill today, I found out that the last of the seedlings suffered complete die back during the cold of December 2008-February 2009. At this point, it would seem that all hopes of a desert hardy F. nitida are lost.
It turns out that Bill found some leftover seeds still stowed away in the back of his refrigerator, right behind a squeeze bottle of mustard with an expiration date of July 1992! More amazing, is that these seeds not only germinated, but they had a better germination rate than the fresh seed planted back in 2005. That's pretty amazing! I haven't heard or read of anyone trying to germinate 4-year-old F. nitida seed, or for that matter, ANY bamboo seed that old.
So, Bill might be history in the making here, and my hopes for heat and cold hardy Fargesia nitida are still alive. If you have a story about growing bamboo from seed old or new, feel free to leave a comment about your experience.