Bamboo Species Value
Tropical bamboo species remain more rare than the temperate species in the U.S. Obviously, there are fewer areas in the U.S. with a climate that will support tropical species. Beyond that, there are other reasons for their rarity…
All bamboo is prohibited by the U.S.D.A. from general importation. Details can be found under Title 7 CFR, Chapter 3, Part 319 USDA Animal & Plant Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine.
The reason bamboo is prohibited is not because the U.S.D.A. considers bamboo itself as a risk. Bamboo is grown in the U.S. almost exclusively as an ornamental plant. It is a grass, or poaceae. Importing bamboo, in theory, might allow a pest, virus, or disease that targets grass crops to enter the U.S. Again, in theory, this MAY present a threat to the major grass crops (corn, wheat, sugar) of the U.S. Most experts don’t believe there would be any bamboo hitchhikers that would affect commercial crops. Yet, because bamboo is purely an ornamental import, even a weak theoretical risk is enough to dissuade the U.S.D.A. from allowing general importation.
From 1985 until 2010, the U.S.D.A. allowed the
American Bamboo Society to maintain quarantine stations – one for each
of its chapters – for Experimental or Scientific purposes. By around 2008,
the USDA wanted more control over the bamboo import process and no new
permits were issued to the ABS. All American Bamboo Society import permits expired by 2010.
In 2011, a new import system meant that an import permit could be requested by an individual.
All imported bamboos, however, would spend their quarantine period at the main
USDA/APHIS facility in Beltsville, MD. Space at the facility is limited and
requestors are put on a waiting list. The facility is for quarantine of many
types of plants and animals, not just for bamboo.
Bamboo must be imported bare root and clean of any signs of disease, spores, or pests. It is suggested that all open leaves are removed and the culms are scrubbed clean. The slightest evidence of any pest will ensure that the plant is destroyed upon arrival. The U.S.D.A. mandates that no more than 2 specimens of one species shall be maintained in quarantine. If the bamboo(s) survive the importation process, they must remain in the quarantine station, under U.S.D.A. inspection, for one year.
Most of the tropical bamboo species are relatively new to the United States. Many of the most desirable species have been here only a few years. Vegetative propagation of tropical bamboo is a tedious process as successful techniques vary between species. Starting from just one or two surviving quarantine plants, the multiplication rate is slow. Bamboo seeds are very rare since bamboo can take up to 100 years or more to flower. In addition, the form of bamboo seedlings can vary from the parent plant. Most growers want an exact clone of the parent plant so vegetative propagation is required.
If you live in an area suitable for growing tropicals (Florida, Southern California, Southern Texas, Southern Louisiana, Arizona, and Hawaii), you’re fortunate to be able to choose from such an amazing selection of bamboos. There are even some sub-tropical species with enough frost tolerance to grow in a few of the other southern States. Check the minimum temperature listed below each species. Tropical bamboo may be grown indoors or in greenhouses if you’re an experienced grower. A good rule of thumb is to think of palm trees. If you can grow at least some palm species, you can probably grow tropical bamboos.
On the flip side, many of the temperate species will not do well in the intense heat and humidity of South Florida. Most temperate runners will struggle and probably die in the South Florida summer. A couple of temperate species that will survive but most often you will be disappointed after a couple of years. Stick with the species best suited for your climate.