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Hibanobambusa tranquillans 'Shiroshima'

Maximum height: 15 ft.
(More often 3 - 5 ft. in zone 5)
Maximum diameter: 3/4 in.
(More often 1/4 in.)
Minimum temperature: 0ºF
(The roots are at least 10ºF more hardy. This plant has been living at our nursery in zone 5 for over 15 years. We grow it more as an ornamental grass that dies to the ground during winter and grows again from the roots each spring.)

** Available in very limited quantities **

A stunning variegated bamboo that's a real eye catching show stopper! It's great as a low hedge or a focal point in the landscape.



To understand this "species" you'll have to first know something about the life cycle of bamboo in general.

Bamboo is a grass, a member of the family Poaceae (or Gramineae) like our more familiar cereal grains; corn, oats, wheat, rye, and so on. Everything in bamboo terminology is from the nomenclature of grasses.

If you've spoken with me I'm sure you've heard me use the word culm: /kəlm/ a noun meaning the hollow stem of a grass or cereal plant. That is the correct term for a bamboo "stem"; not cane, column, trunk, stalk, or anything else you may have heard people refer to it as.

Here I will be using another term as well: inflorescence - noun; the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers.

In this discussion only plant sexual reproduction will be discussed. Asexual reproduction is another subject and not nearly as interesting, because that's simply dividing the roots of a plant that already exists. That's not nearly as interesting and it's not how new species or hybrids occur.

When a grass "flowers" they typically do so on a yearly basis. Think of corn - our most widely used staple food, a modern day hybrid of the wild teosinte grass. It completes its life cycle in a single growing season. It's planted as seed, germinates, grows to maturity, produces an inflorescence, if pollinated it then produces grains by which it reproduces, and then it dies.

There are also perennial grasses such as the commonly used ornamental grass known as Maiden Grass (Miscanthus). It produces inflorescence on a yearly basis without dying.

The life cycle of bamboo is somewhere in between that of these two types of grasses discussed above. While bamboo is a perennial, it usually dies after it sexually reproduces. The difference is that it only sexually reproduces once roughly every 60 to 100 years. At that time all members of the given species, no matter where they are world wide, reproduce and usually die within the same decade or so. Viable seed can also be rare.

Bamboo species can cross pollinate. The problem is that due to its reproductive timetable it's very rare to have two separate species with inflorescence at the same time to facilitate cross-pollination. So typically a species can only reproduce with itself, which can also lead to subspecies, sports, and varying clones because bamboo doesn't always sexually reproduce true to form.

One such rarity of having two species "in flower" simultaneously and there also being viable seed produced occurred back in the early part of the 1900s. Phyllostachys nigra 'Henon' (a large, gray timber bamboo; a color phase of the better known and smaller black bamboo) was in flower at the same time as Sasa veitchii (a large-leafed bamboo of short stature).

Prior to this time Hibanobambusa tranquillans was not known to exist. Taxonomists believe that the two species got together on the wind and had this showy love-child.

Taxonomists then had to classify this hybrid. They came up with the new nothogenus (from the Greek "nóthos", meaning "bastard") of Hibanobambusa, of which tranquillans is the only species.

'Shiroshima' then appeared on the bamboo scene in 1977 three years after H. t. 'Kimmei' flowered, continuing this hybrid's legacy.

That is the origin of this remarkably colored bamboo that reaches usually no more than 10 feet in height and holds its variegation all season.

Perhaps the more interesting thing is that neither of its parents are cold hardy to zone 5. Yet, Hibanobambusa tranquillans 'Shiroshima' is and has been growing here for over 15 years.


© 2013-2017 David Rogers