Black bamboo  – what are the options?

Black bamboo – what are the options?

Black bamboo, like other black plants or flowers, fascinates people. It is unusual and immediately draws the eye to it. 

Before we can start talking about black bamboo, we must define what we mean by “black bamboo”. 

Do we want to talk about any bamboo that has black or very dark culms or do we mean Phyllostachys nigra – the species of bamboo commonly known as Black bamboo?

I think we can talk about both.

The right climate

Just because you like the intriguing beauty of black bamboo does not mean you should get it. First, you must check whether it is compatible with the climate where you live.

Black bamboo varieties are not the best choice for many landscapes in places where temperatures tend to get chilly for some part of the year. 

While black bamboo looks spectacular when it’s growing in the right conditions it is too common to hear about people who planted black bamboo and it died at the first frost. 

The running black bamboo Phyllostachys nigra tends to be more cold tolerant than clumping black bamboo species.

The running Phyllostachys nigra can withstand freezing temperatures for some part of the year and tend to grow quite well down to USDA plant hardiness zone 7.

The clumping black bamboos, on the other hand, really are not meant to grow in cold climates. They are great in tropical landscapes but can die to the ground only after a couple of hours in freezing temperatures.

Running Black Bamboo

Phyllostachys nigra is the best known of black bamboo and it is commonly known simply as Black Bamboo. It is a beautiful, black-culmed running bamboo with edible shoots. 

Phyllostachys nigra typically grows in the USDA plant hardiness zones 7 through 10. Which means it can survive freezing temperatures for part of the year.

If you choose to plant this bamboo, keep in mind that it is an aggressive running bamboo so you must install root barriers to contain it.

Clumping Black Bamboo

Bambusa Lako, commonly known as Timor Black or Black Lako

This bamboo originates from the island of Timor, this is where it gets its common name is Timor Black from. 

Bambusa lako is a medium-size clumping bamboo that typically is 40 to 50 feet tall (12 – 15 m) but can reach up to 69 feet (21 m) in ideal conditions. Culms are about 3.9 inches (10 cm) in diameter.

If grown in containers or pots, then it typically is shorter than inground plants – reaches about 15 feet (4.5 m).

The plant looks great with its light green leaves and glossy dark brown or black culms and light stripes where internodes are. Young culms are green at the beginning and then mature to the shiny black eggplant-like color that this bamboo is known for. Its culms grow straight upright. 

Bambusa lako has short branches and pendulous long leaves – the leaves can reach 9.8 inches ( 25 cm) in length.

This bamboo is not very cold or wind tolerant and thrives in tropical weather or warm sheltered sites. 

Gigantochloa atroviolacea, commonly known as Java Black or Tropical Black

Gigantochloa atroviolacea is a dense tropical clumping bamboo native to Java, Indonesia. This bamboo grows best in dry areas in limestone-rich soil. The purplish-black color of the culms is more pronounced when it grows in dry areas. 

Java Black is a medium-size tufted woody bamboo with 26 to 39 feet (8 – 12 m) tall culms and an average diameter of 2.3 to 3.1 inches ( 6 – 8 cm) at the base. 

Its culms are dark green when young and turn purplish-black when mature and have almost white nodes. It has lance-shaped leaves that are about 7.8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) long.

When planting, the recommended distance between clumps is about 23 feet (7 m).

Dendrocalamus asper, commonly known as Black Asper 

Black Asper is a beautiful ornamental black bamboo with a dusty grey effect on the culms native to Indonesia. 

It is a real giant and can reach height up to 100 feet ( about 30 m). The culms are also big in diameter – 12 inches (30 cm). 

Black Asper looks best as a single feature in the landscape. It forms a very open clump with arching culms. It has large leaves and is clean stemmed without much lower foliage. 

Because it is so big, it looks best if you have lots of space, it’s definitely not the bamboo for a small suburban backyard landscape. 

This bamboo is very low maintenance and drought tolerant once established. But it is extremely cold sensitive, grows best in tropical and subtropical climates in full sun. 

Not only it is beautiful and has valuable timber, it has sweet edible shoots. 

Dendrocalamus brandisii var. Black, commonly known as Black Brandisii Bamboo 

This is a bamboo variety that is going to be very hard to find but who knows, maybe you`re lucky. 

This is bamboo that will look quite different in different light conditions. If full sun they tend to be more brown than black, and even have hints of orange and red. In the shade, the culms are blacker. And in most cases, the lower internodes may remain greyish while the upper ones turn black. 

Black brandisii grows 32 to 39 feet (10 – 12 m) tall. So it is suitable for many landscapes. 

Bambusa “New Guinea Black”

The New Guinea Black bamboo is a beautiful bamboo thats quite small compared to many others.

It reaches 20 feet (6 m) and has 1-inch diameter culms in Florida climate. It is not cold hardy at all, the minimum USDA zone for it is 9a. 

New Guinea Black has very dark green culms that darken to black color with age. But it can also turn very dark brown when grown in the sun. 

Potted Black bamboo

Phyllostachys nigra, the running Black bamboo is the one often grown in containers or pots. 

When planted in containers, it can be overwintered indoors or left outside depending on the climate. It works well indoors if you want a big dramatic effect it gives the interior. 

Outside, potted black bamboo only survives winter in zones 8 through 10, any colder than that is too cold.  

What kind of container is best for black bamboo?   A long narrow container with good drainage is best for Phyllostachys nigra as it allows for the root system to stretch more according to its natural pattern. And the container should be at least 18 inches (45 cm) deep. 

Normally you should repot and divide your black bamboo once every 3 to 5 years depending on how big a container you have chosen. The smaller it is the sooner your bamboo will get root-bound. 

Containers are not growth control!

Black bamboo is an aggressive bamboo and is considered invasive in certain areas of the country.

One of the worst mistakes people make with black bamboo – planting it in a container and then putting the container in the ground. That is not a strategy to contain it!

If you want to control the bamboo spread, use rhizome barriers, pruning trenches, or sand traps but never think of containers as growth control.

Why?

The bamboo first creeps out of the drainage holes (that are necessary for containers) and eventually breaks through them. And then the roots and rhizomes spread way deeper underground than they would normally and it is extremely hard to get rid of them if that is the case. 

Featured image: Black bamboo by Jayson, Flickr, CC BY 2.0