Chusquea culeou

Douglas Justice contributed today’s write-up. Douglas writes:

Thanks to Alan Tracey for today’s image. Alan recently traveled to the Chilean Andes, where he took many photographs of fascinating and unusual plants. We hope to show a number of Alan’s excellent images over the next few weeks.

Chusquea (mountain bamboo) is a New World genus of woody, evergreen, semelparous (= monocarpic; i.e., once flowering) bamboos, native from northwestern Mexico and the West Indies, south to southern Chile and Argentina. They are differentiated from most other bamboos by their solid, pith-filled culms, although at least two species are reputed to have hollow culms. Chusqueas also typically have dimorphic branch buds at each node (there is usually one large central bud with smaller subsidiary buds arranged below and to the sides), and lack both fimbriae and auricles. Auricles are tiny outgrowths of the culm leaf sheath and are characteristic of many bamboos, while fimbriae, often called oral setae, are the bristle-like hairs associated with them. Nearly all species are reported to have pachymorphic (i.e., short, thickened and freely branching) rhizomes. Such rhizomes produce clumping, rather than running, bamboos. See Chris Stapleton’s Bamboo Identification page for an excellent primer on the subject of bamboo identification.

Chusquea culeou is the hardiest of its genus, but is still relatively rare in cultivation. It suffers badly from cold winters in the Vancouver area, as the exposed portions of the culms burn back when temperatures drop to anything less than minus 10°C for an extended time. This species is known as the foxtail bamboo because, in the most commonly cultivated forms, its multiple, leafy, nodal branches are thickly produced and are all approximately the same size. This creates a tufted, bottle-brush effect along the upper part of the culm. Another significant ornamental characteristic is the contrast between the bright green to dark brown culms and their persistent, papery straw-coloured sheaths, a feature most evident on the taller growing forms. The species is evidently quite variable, and in some places, grows to as much as 7.5 m tall. The mature plant pictured here, and those nearby (according to Alan) grow to only about 2.5 or 3 m tall.

A further notable characteristic of the species is that it is taxonomically confused. Some authors attribute this to the fact that chusqueas in the southern Andes are actively speciating. Add to this the fact that Chusquea culeou evidently flowered in a number of places in the early 1990s and copious amounts of seed were subsequently planted. These factors go a long way to explaining the variability within the species, the proliferation of names, and their sometimes contradictory descriptions. For an excellent profile of the genus, see “Chusquea — Mountain Bamboo of Latin America” (PDF) via the RHS journal, The Plantsman.

Chusquea culeou

11 responses to “Chusquea culeou”

  1. mountain laurel

    Wow – I had no clue there were bamboos native to the Americas. Neat! Do these display the mast flowering like other bamboos (is that what the mention of flowering in the ’90s refers to?)

  2. Meg Bernstein

    Me too, no idea the hemisphere had its own bamboo.

  3. Elizabeth Gordon-Mills

    From the family designation (Poaceae), I gather that this is a giant grass, rather than a true bamboo. Similar to Arundo donax, which is often called a bamboo, but is in the grass family.

  4. thad davis

    I learned that monocots do not produce true “wood.” Is this species somehow different?
    The trees in the background look as if they could be from any number of N. American temperate zones. Any idea what genera or species are represented?
    I like the rocks, too!

  5. Daniel Mosquin

    Elizabeth, Chusquea is in the Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, Tribe Bambusaea — so it’s as much of a bamboo as any other bamboo.
    Thad, regarding wood and monocots — not quite true. Read Stem and Root Anatomy from Wayne Armstrong, paying particular attention to Anatomy of Monocot Stems. Wayne freely uses the term “woody monocots”.
    As for the masting phenomenon and identification of the other species, I’m not sure — perhaps Douglas will be able to identify a few / give more details about what happened in the 90s.

  6. Bill Smith

    It’ll be interesting when someone does a genetic study of bamboos. Where will these place?
    About how often do they flower?
    Thank you for the photo, D. Justice.

  7. Douglas Justice

    Bill, please note that I was not the photographer. Believe me, I would have loved to have been there to take the shot, but Alan Tracey gets the credit.

    If you Google “Lynn Clark and bamboo” you’ll see who is working on molecular phylogenetics of bamboos. There may be others, but I know Lynn is actively working in this area. And I suspect she would be the person to tell us about synchronous flowering in Chusquea.

    Thad, I can only guess at what sort of trees those are in the background. Southern beech (Nothofagus species), I expect.

  8. Kevin

    I’m still waiting to see if the two clumps in my backyard (east Vancouver) have survived. They were mostly defoliated by the -12c in December but I have hope that the rhizomes are still alive.
    thanks for the post D.J.

  9. bev

    I am not fond of bamboo since I battle a huge legacy stand of it on my property, but this was a very interesting write-up!
    Parenthetically, Daniel I don’t know if you are aware that this site received a positive plug in this month’s “Fine Gardening” magazine to which I subscribe. It came from Michelle Gervais, one of their associate editros, I believe. So if you suddenly see a jump in hits, that’s why! Congratulations – only I felt smug that I discovered you before they did! (:

  10. elizabeth a airhart

    i have been following links
    then more links a photo of
    this plant in the snow in
    the high mountains is quite good
    fine gardening-good for you
    thank you all

  11. Daniel Mosquin

    Thanks, Bev — I had heard from Michelle, since she and I emailed back-and-forth about it. I’m glad to hear it’s published.

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