Chusquea culeou – Chilean Feather Bamboo

by philinshelton on September 6, 2009

in Bamboo Plants

Before I moved it from my house to the new nursery, my Chusquea culeou never failed to turn heads, and was a customer favorite.  Not only does the form and texture of this bamboo live up to its common name, but it has awesome seasonal color as well.  In this article, learn a little bit about the origin of this bamboo, along with where and how you might use it in your garden.  Click on a pic to view a larger image, and click again to shrink it.

The Scoop

Mature form

Chusquea culeou is a South American native that grows in the lower elevations of the Andes Mountains, primarily in southern Chile.  Statistics for this plant vary depending upon the source; I can vouch for a mature height of about 15', with a spread of about 5'  within 4 - 5 years (starting with an established plant in a #2 container or larger).  In general, this bamboo has a columnar to vase-shape form as a mature plant.  Over many years, (decade plus) this rather large and vigorous clumping bamboo can colonize into a larger area if left unchecked.  You could grow this bamboo as a tall hedge, but it has everything that's needed to shine as a focal point of a landscape.

Form, Foliage, Seasonal Interest
Chusquea culeou

Spring color

The narrow vase form of this bamboo has a relatively high visual energy which is well-suited for an area of a landscape with a lot of visual traffic.  The short branches are nearly whorled around the culm lending a tufted or plume-like appearance to the foliage (thus the common name Chilean Feather Bamboo).
Color darkens with time

Color darkens with time

This bamboo can also offer some spectacular seasonal color.  In early spring, the culms can turn a range of colors ranging from magenta to  chocolate-burgundy.  Color is variable between plants and different time of the year.  It will be most dramatic when the plant is sited in full sun.  If all that isn't enough, heavily arching, snow flocked canes can add dramatic winter beauty as well.  When you add it all up, this bamboo is easily worthy of space in the spotlight on your landscape stage.

Winter snow

Winter snow

Growing it well

Like most all temperate clumpers, this bamboo requires cool summer nights to survive and thrive, so the lowland climate of Western Washington is ideal for growing this bamboo.  At higher elevations in outlying areas, it may struggle during the coldest winters, even though several sources report cold hardiness to 0 degrees F.  For the most vigorous growth, plant it in full sun, in rich moist soil, and give it plenty of room to grow.  Chilean Feather Bamboo is a clumping bamboo, but gets taller and spreads more quickly than most other clumping bamboos.  For the best performance and least maintenance, you should set aside an area of garden space at least 6' in diameter. For more reading on the differences between clumping and running bamboos, you can read Running vs. Clumping Bamboo and other articles on the Bamboo for Beginners page.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Vincent McMonagle May 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

I am about to plant one of these Bamboos, only to be informed (by the local expert) it is flowering, if i send you a photo could you tell if in fact this is flowering or it is just the type of plant???? I assume if it is flowering it is dying? I live in Ireland.

Many Thanks


Marcel Bruins January 14, 2013 at 3:28 am

Several recent hikes (January 2013) through the Southern part of Chile (Valdivia, Pucon, Villarica) showed us that Chusqea coleou was indeed flowering all over the place. And our guide told us that the large majority of the plants will die. This will mean a tremendous increase in bamboo seed availability for the fauna (there are many rodent species), and subsequent increases in predator populations (native Chilean foxes and other predators).

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