A Walking Tour of the Bamboo in the Taniguchi Japanese Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin, TX


Leave your worldly troubles behind as you pass through the gates of the Taniguchi Japanese Garden, behind the main building at Zilker Botanical Garden. As you walk down the steps, the first bamboos you see (to the left of the tea house) are of the Pleioblastus genus.  This genus represents small to medium-sized, running bamboo which require some shade. Most are hardy down to 0F and also seem to be fairly tolerant of Central Texas heat.


In the foreground is Pleioblastus simonii variegatus, which grows a few feet tall and has narrow variegated leaves. This is an "unstable" bamboo and has a tendency to revert back to the non-variegated species type (Pleioblastus simonii). This bamboo can grow 20 feet tall under ideal conditions. Zilker garden staff has been pruning out the non-variegated culms to keep the variegated characteristic active and prominent and have been shaping the bamboo and keeping it short so that it would not block out views of other parts of the garden.


To the left is a low-growing bamboo, Pleioblastus fortunei variegatus (Dwarf Whitestripe), with variegated leaves.  It is very short and is hard to find. This bamboo keeps its green and white stripes throughout the year, has thin 0.2" diameter culms, tolerates low temperatures to -10F and never seems to get over a few inches tall.  Both of these bamboos were planted in 1997. (update: May 2013 - it seems like the non variegated Pleioblastus simonii has migrated over to the fortunei bed and taken it over.)


Follow the path downhill (to the left - away from the tea house) and you will approach the bamboo display area. The first raised bed on your right contains a short ground-cover bamboo, Pleioblastus distichus, which is well adapted to sun or shade. This is a compact bamboo and must be planted close together in order to cover an area. Deep shade will make the culms lengthen and distort its compact characteristics. Maximum specifications are 2 feet tall, 0.2" diameter and tolerant to -5F. Originally 15 plants in 1997, this bamboo has filled in nicely.


Now turn around (do an "about face") and you will see a large-leafed bamboo mixed in with the morning glories, English ivy (and possibly some poison ivy). This is Indocalamus tessellatus, the bamboo with the largest leaves of any bamboo in cultivation. A small running bamboo, it was first planted here about 1993 by Herb Hillery and Kinder Chambers. The vines in this area have kept this plant in check. I. tessellatus grows readily in pots, looks best in shady areas, and doesn't usually get more than four feet tall. It does not do well at all in the full hot Texas sun - so if you grow it - give it some shade.


Now, look up to the High Center Bed, which is just uphill a bit. Planted on April 24, 1998, the tall bamboo is Bambusa multiplex. This is a clumping bamboo that does well in areas where the minimum temperatures do not drop below 12- 15F. It grows 25 feet tall, 1 1/2" in diameter, and tolerates full sun. Note how much space a clumping bamboo can take up in the landscape.


Proceed down the path to the stately Bambusa textilis on your right. It is a tight-growing clumping bamboo which often reaches 40 feet tall, and 2" in diameter, and is tolerant of a low temperature of 13F. The common name for B. textilis is Weaver's Bamboo, as the fibers of the thin-walled culms are often used for weaving. We believe that this start came from Mercer Arboretum in Humble, Texas.


Throughout the east side of the Taniguchi Japanese Garden (downhill, on the left side of the path) is Phyllostachys aurea (Golden Bamboo), which was planted as part of the original garden by its creator, Isamu Taniguchi in 1969. This bamboo does very well in central Texas, since it tolerates alkaline soils well and is somewhat drought resistant.  Members of the Texas Bamboo Society have been working on grooming this grove and can always use more help.  Bamboo canes only stay green for a number of years and then they drop all their leaves and fade in color from green to beige.  For proper grove maintenance, the dry beige culms should be removed from the grove.


The next raised bed contains Phyllostachys nigra (Black Bamboo). This was the first bamboo planted in the bamboo display area, on September 13, 1997, just a month before the Texas Bamboo Society hosted the annual meeting of the American Bamboo Society at Zilker Botanical Garden, when the main building was being remodeled. Various resources indicate that Black Bamboo does best in partial shade in Central Texas. The culms tend to turn ebony black when exposed to full sun. Maximum height is listed as 30 feet, diameter 2", with a minimum temperature tolerance of 0F. The new shoots start out green and change color during their first year. This planting has suffered during the drought of 2007-2009.  After the leaks in the ponds above it were sealed, the lack of that extra water combined with the drought prevented the planting from sending up many new shoots.


The next bed contains Phyllostachys aurea flavescens-inversa (planted April 24, 1998). The green culms are distinguished by a yellow stripe in the groove (sulcus), which alternates from one side of the cane (culm) to the other side. This species is extra aggressive, grows 27 feet tall, 1.8" in diameter, tolerant to 0F and takes full sun.


The last bed in this area contains what was originally five clumping bamboos which were also planted on April 24, 1998: Bambusa multiplex 'Fernleaf Stripestem' (three plants) with striped stems grows 12 feet tall, ½" in diameter, down to 12F in full sun. Bambusa multiplex 'Fernleaf' (two plants) grows 20 feet tall, 1/2" in diameter, 12F, full sun. These both have small delicate "fern-like leaves" and can be trimmed to make a nice hedge. The two Bambusa multiplex 'Fernleaf' have grown together now and look like one larger plant. Fernleaf varieties tend to be unstable and sometimes send up shoots that are too tall for the variety and it is recommended that the taller shoots be cut out to maintain the plants shorter more delicate appearance.


Continue up the few stairs and down the path adjacent to the ponds and you will see Pseudosasa japonica (Arrow Bamboo), mixed in with the P. aurea (Golden Bamboo) and also note how it is pruned to a lower height on the pond side of the garden. This running bamboo is erect and very straight, has large leaves, and grows to 18' tall, and was planted as part of the original garden by its creator, Isamu Taniguchi in 1969. It is used in arrow making, which is why the common name of this bamboo is "Arrow Bamboo".


Now, turn around and go back to the beginning of the Bamboo Trail. Follow the path to your right (along the koi pond). To the right of the bench at the end of the koi pond the used to be a tall clumping bamboo, Bambusa beecheyana.  This is a 'tropical' bamboo and is only tolerant down to 21F.  It took a hard freeze hit in the winter of 2009 and had been cut back to the ground after the freeze. It did not grow back - so this is not a recommended species for this area.


Also in this area there was Semiarundinaria fastuosa, (a running bamboo) which grows 30 feet tall, 1 1/5" in diameter, handles -5F, does best in full sun and is very drought-tolerant.  The culm sheaths tend to hang on to the culms during the main growth season and remind one of the sails on a sailing ship. The green culms often turn purplish brown to reddish bronze, giving this bamboo the common name of red bamboo. The rhizomes of the Semiarundinaria fastuosa go deeper than most of the Phyllostachys species.  Originally this bamboo was behind the bench - but that part has been cut out and in May of 2013 - there does not seem to be any growing.


In the center of this area is Bambusa oldhamii which grows 55 feet tall, 4" in diameter, and handles 21F with full sun. Planted in the mid 1990s, the winters of 2009 and 2010 were the first times that the B. oldhamii experienced a severe freeze. All the culms froze and were cut down by the Zilker Garden Staff.  Fortunately, this bamboo has rebounded and is growing back nicely.


In 2003 a Bambusa ventricosa (Buddha's Belly) was planted just to the north of the B. oldhamii and now there is one of each species in this same area, so that differences between B. oldhamii and Buddha Belly can be compared.  Many clumping bamboos get very large over time and the two giants may very well be too close together for "future comfort." When Buddha's Belly is grown in a pot under dry and nutrient-poor conditions, it becomes a dwarf with swollen nodes, when in the ground, it becomes a giant with zigzag culms & arching branches.


Look downhill, and you will see Phyllostachys bambusoides which is known as Giant Japanese Timber Bamboo and has straight, thick-walled culms, can grow 72 feet (yes, 72 feet) tall and 6" in diameter. This species has only been in place there since January 2002 — so give it some time to develop.


Texas Bamboo Society members help to maintain and groom the various bamboo plantings in Zilker Botanical Garden on the third Saturday of the month from 10 am - 1 pm.  Join us and learn about the different characteristics of bamboo by working with the plants. To confirm the next meeting time call 512-929-9565, send email to bamboo@bamboocentral.net or visit the TBS websites at http://www.texasbamboosociety.org and http://www.bamboocentral.net


Additional information about bamboo can be found at the following links:

American Bamboo Society www.bamboo.org and at the Bamboo Arts and Craft Network www.bamboocraft.net


Written by Carole Meckes and Steve Muzos Revised May 2013