Saturday, June 23, 2012


Back in 2009, we purchased several types of bamboo, which have since been planted throughout the Gardens. There was one clump of bamboo, however, that stood out from the rest in that it had two very different types of shoots: one thick and tall with large leaves, the other thin and short with tiny leaves:

Small bamboo overtopped by larger bamboo.
Small bamboo shoots surrounded by larger ones.
Since most plants do not naturally produce two different types of shoots, I concluded we must have two different types of bamboo in this clump. After a bit of research, I determined that the bamboo we had intended to purchase (Bambusa multiplex 'Stripestem Fernleaf') was the one with the thin, short culms. My first thought was that the 'Stripestem Fernleaf' had been dug up from the nursery with some rhizomes (underground stems) from a larger bamboo that was once located in the same spot. However, I also knew that cultivars of plants will sometimes "revert" to the straight species over time. Essentially, plant cultivars have unstable genetics (some more so than others) and may produce new growth that resembles the cultivar's parentage if the genes spontaneously revert to those of the species, the reason or mechanism for which is beyond my scope of expertise. Since the larger bamboo resembles Bambusa multiplex, my guess is that this was a case of reversion.

After consulting with Joe and Veronika, we decided to attempt a surgical operation on the bamboo to separate the two different types, as it was pretty clear the larger bamboo would soon bring about the death of the small cultivar because of its larger size. As with humans, operations like this need to be done with care and it helps greatly to make as few cuts as possible and keep cutting tools as clean as possible so that infections do not occur. After making the necessary preparations, Veronika dug out the entire clump, carefully separated the rhizomes from one another, and put the plants back into the ground as soon as possible. The 'Stripestem Fernleaf' cultivar went back into the hole from which it was taken, while the larger bamboo was moved a few yards away to the end of an existing bamboo hedge. While the larger bamboo seemed to handle the operation just fine, with little physical decline after replanting, we were worried that the tiny Fernleaf cultivar would not make it, as it went into a rapid decline after being replanted. In their own way, plants experience stress and trauma after significant surgical operations just like humans. Here we can see distress of the small bamboo indicated by the foliage thinning significantly and losing color:

Fortunately, like humans, plants are tenacious and can overcome trauma and stress, especially with good care. In this case, we began to see significant signs of improvement as the summer rains began; rain water is like chicken soup for plants. While rain water is pretty great, the fact that I regularly came by and sat by Fernleaf's (garden)bed side, holding one of its shoots in my hand, exchanging jokes about orchids and reading bedtime stories about "The Little Bamboo That Could" like any good friend would do was more likely the real cause for recovery. Today, you'd barely even recognize it as the same plant:

While you can see it definitely did lose some of its shoots (like patients who lose weight while recovering from an operation), the ones still there have some very verdant foliage. Although we are still in the process of nursing this bamboo back to full health, it seems like the operation was successful and the plant will eventually make a full recovery - congratulations to Dr. Veronika and the rest of the "medical" team here at Kona Kai!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director