The Allure of Blue Bamboo

Do you have an abundance of green, golden, and black bamboo? Perhaps it’s time to dive into the realm of vibrant colors. Enter the mesmerizing world of Blue Bamboo. But wait, is Blue Bamboo even a thing? And if it is, what secrets does it hold?

Blue Bamboo, scientifically known as Bambusa chungii, is a tropical clumping variety. Its unique blue hue has captivated the hearts of many ornamental landscaping enthusiasts. However, it’s not the only kind of bamboo that showcases this striking color. Himalayacalamus hookerianus, a temperate clumping bamboo, is also often referred to as Himalayan Blue Bamboo. Additionally, some other species of Himalayacalamus and the closely related genus Drepanostachyum possess this extraordinary feature. While these variants are quite rare, their unparalleled beauty makes them highly sought after.

The captivating blue coloration is a result of a light, powdery substance with a waxy texture that covers the new culms. As the year progresses, the color tends to change, with older culms gradually losing their blue hue as the protective powder dissipates.

Bamboo Genera

Understanding the diversity within the bamboo subfamily, Poaceae (grass) family, is crucial. Bamboo comes in various forms, ranging from towering giants that exceed 100 feet in height to delicate culms no larger than chopsticks. Each species has its preferred habitat, from hot jungles to cool Himalayan slopes or equatorial highlands. The bamboo family showcases an array of colors, including shiny black, buttery yellow, and emerald green. And yes, some bamboo can even be blue!

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How Blue is Blue?

While a row of bright royal blue canes may be a stretch, Blue Bamboo delights with its brilliant blue highlights. The fresher and younger culms tend to display more intense blue hues, which gradually fade over time, taking on shades of green or yellow, depending on the species. The blue combines with the common shades of green, resulting in a mesmerizing emerald green aspect. At times, the blue influence is stronger, reminiscent of a captivating turquoise hue. The blue hues produced by these distinctive bamboo varieties are undeniably beautiful.

What Makes Them Blue?

Surprisingly, the blue tint in these bamboo species does not originate from the plant fibers themselves. Instead, it comes from a white, powdery substance that provides a waxy texture to the culms, offering protection against moisture. The powder appears on new shoots, acting as a shield against mold or mildew during the wet growing season. The white powder alters the appearance of the bright green culms, creating different shades of greenish or grayish blue. As the shoots grow, the powder thins and scatters, causing the captivating blue coloration to fade.

Bambusa chungii blue bamboo
Bambusa chungii is a rare and unusually beautiful variety of subtropical bamboo.

Species of Blue Bamboo

Several species bear the name “Blue Bamboo,” with some being more common depending on the climate. Bambusa, a tropical genus, cannot tolerate prolonged freezing temperatures. On the other hand, Himalayacalamus and Drepanostachyum varieties, native to the Himalayas, exhibit better cold tolerance but struggle in excessively hot climates. So, choosing the right species for your garden becomes a matter of considering your climate conditions.

Bambusa chungii – Tropical Blue Bamboo

This medium-sized species, also known as Tropical Blue Bamboo, is highly sought after in tropical regions. Flourishing in Florida, Southern California, and Hawaii, it is challenging to find due to its popularity. Growing to a height of 30-40 feet with 1.5-2 inch thick culms, it starts with a powdery blue color that gradually transforms into a deep blue-green or emerald shade. These tight clumps make stunning specimen plants and create an attractive privacy screen when planted together in a row. While they thrive in sub-tropical settings, they also adapt well to various climates, with tolerance to temperatures as low as 20º F.

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Bambusa chungii ‘Barabrella’ – Barbie

This slightly shorter and more compact subspecies closely resembles B. chungii in appearance and color. Its remarkable characteristic is its narrow footprint, measuring around 5 or 6 feet wide, making it a favored choice for ornamental purposes.

Borinda papyrifera – Blue Dragon

Also referred to as Fargesia papyrifera, this clumping bamboo is native to Southern China and the Himalayas’ high elevations. In optimal conditions, it can reach heights of 15 to 20 feet, with culms up to 2 inches thick. The powdery blue culms, complemented by vibrant green leaves, create an exquisite visual display. While it thrives in cool climates and shaded areas, it is not as cold-tolerant as other Fargesia species, yet it can withstand temperatures well below 0º F.

Himalayacalamus hookerianus blue bamboo
Himalayacalamus hookerianus is commonly called Himalayan Blue Bamboo.

Himalayacalamus hookerianus – Himalayan Blue Bamboo

Among the most popular and readily available Himalayacalamus species, Himalayan Blue Bamboo typically grows to heights of 15 to 20 feet. Its narrow culms, measuring 3/4 to 1 inch in thickness, start with a powdery blue color that may transition to turquoise, highlighted by white rings around the nodes. As the culms age, they turn olive green, golden yellow, and, if exposed to more direct sunlight, reddish. With its thin and wispy leaves, this species exudes grace and beauty. It thrives in high altitudes, shaded areas, and filtered sunlight, making it unsuitable for hot and humid climates. Himalayan Blue Bamboo is cold hardy down to about 15º F. It is also known as Drepanostachyum falcatum, with subspecies listed as ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Teague’s Blue.’

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Himalayacalamus porcatus – Nepalese Blue

Similar in appearance to Himalayan Blue Bamboo, Nepalese Blue is smaller and more compact in size. Its grayish white to light blue culms grow to heights of 6 to 10 feet, with a thickness of 1/2 to 1 inch. The mature clumps measure about 3 to 4 feet wide. This species can be pruned to even smaller sizes and looks stunning in pots or containers. The culms of Nepalese Blue tend to arch more compared to their upright counterparts. Like all Himalayacalamus, this species thrives best in cooler climates with limited direct sunlight and can withstand temperatures as low as 15º F without frost damage.

Drepanostachyum khasianum – Purple Jade Bamboo

Closely related to Himalayacalamus, Drepanostachyum is often mistaken for it. The main difference lies in the branching patterns, with Drepanostachyum having many equally sized branches at each node while Himalayacalamus possesses a dominant branch. Native to the highlands of northern India, Drepanostachyum khasianum is an alluring and exotic species. New shoots exhibit a burgundy hue, enhanced by the white powder that gives them a blueish and occasionally purple tint. Over time, the culms fade to orange-yellow. Slender and elegant, they can reach heights of 10 to 20 feet. Pronounced nodes with white rings add to their allure. This species thrives in cooler climates and shady settings, making it an excellent choice for pots as well.

Further Reading

If you find yourself entranced by Blue Bamboo, your fascination with exotic bamboo varieties may extend to the following articles:

  • Rare bamboo species
  • Tropical bamboo for warm climates
  • Clumping bamboo for cold climates
  • Bamboo with stripes
  • Zigzag bamboo

Blue bamboo pin