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M. Basjoo and Timber bamboo... seed question

M. Basjoo and Timber bamboo... seed question

Hi again,

I wondered if anyone knew why M. Basjoo and Japanese Timber bamboo wont grow from seed? I know it seems like a very basic question but I have been in the dark about this subject forever..



The following thread was started by April Sanderson on February 14, 2008 at 7:42 pm PST

They do


Japanese Timber bamboo, Phyllostachys bambusoides, does grow from seed. The trouble is that they don't flower and set seed except for every fifty to hundred years. Most of them flowered and set seeds some time in the 1980's so you will have some waiting for the next seed set from them. Gib Cooper, owner of Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery and others developed several varies of P. bambusoides that grew from those seeds.

As for Musa basjoo, I don't know. I have never been very successful with banana seeds I have ordered from various seed sources, unlike fresh palm seeds.

The above followup was added by Issaquah John on February 14, 2008 at 8:54 pm PST.


Phyllostachys bamboo bloom and produce seed in 30 to 60 year cycles. At those times, yes they will grow from seed. Rhizome divisions are much more common.

I'm not aware of Musa basjoo producing seed, at least in my many years of experience with it. Here's one take on the topic:
"Cultivated bananas are parthenocarpic (with sterile fruit), while wild
bananas have seeds. The fruit was probably a result of co-evolution
with its pollinators and the animals that feed upon it and spread its seeds
before cultivated forms."

Cheers, Barrie.

The above followup was added by Barrie in Lantzville on February 14, 2008 at 9:10 pm PST.

They both seed

On rare occasions someone will get a clone of Phyllostachys blooming, and will sell the seedlings. As the other 2 mentioned, they bloom at long cycles so this is somewhat of a serendipitous opportunity.

Musa basjoo is fertile. Some of the southern contingent get seed. They key is that you need both male and female flowers blooming at the same time. We rarely get flowers and when we do, probably not enough to have both genders blooming at the same time.

In fact the seeds are one of the reasons the fruit is not eaten. It is dry and seedy. M. velutina also has seedy fruit, but some folks consider it palatable enough to eat.

M. xparadisiaca is a sterile interspecific hybrid. There has been talk of trying to rebreed it from wild bananas--before one of its ancestors goes extinct!--because it has been vegetatively propagated too long--I don't know how long but Alexander the Great forbade his troops from eating them when they conquered India! His men thought they looked good but he was suspicious of such an exotic-looking fruit and worried it might be poisonous!

The above followup was added by Rob Wagner on February 14, 2008 at 10:59 pm PST.

sounds right

Rob's right about M.basjoo. It needs male and female flower to set seed. It is also much less numerous in the wild than species like Musa sikkimensis. I have heard it is also harder to hybridize with other species, unlike Musa sikkimensis which sets alot of seed when cross bread.
If you go on ebay you can probably find Phyllostachy pubescens (Moso) seeds, which grows in the southern parts of Japan. Bamboo grows pretty quick from seed.

The above followup was added by whitney on February 15, 2008 at 8:02 am PST.


It is all coming together now! It is virtually impossible to find any Basjoo seeds online..
I do have many pups from my mother plants, but they dont produce enough for my liking :)

Whitney, are the moso seeds just like the giant timber bamboo?



The above followup was added by April on February 15, 2008 at 10:22 am PST.

common name

I'm not really sure if it is the one you are reffering to. Moso is a giant timber bamboo, and will survive in the Pacific north west, but it isn't as good as other species for the climate.
Phyllostchys Vivax is one of the best, as well as P.bambusodies for timber bamboo.

The above followup was added by whitney on February 15, 2008 at 1:58 pm PST.

"Moso" is the Japanese name for a plant variously known as Phyllostachys pubescens, P. heteroclada var pubescens, and P. edulis.

It has so many names because the whole genus is hopelessly mixed up, species having been named for mutant cultivars bred in both China (where they are native) and Japan. That's because the botanists naming them were discretely buying them when they could from nurseries, because in those days it was illegal for foreigners to travel through China or Japan.

P. nigra is, for example, named for a mutant dwarf cultivar with black canes; the wild species however is a big "timber" bamboo with green stems, and these have ended up with cultivar names ("Henon").

The name "edulis" refers to the fact that it is the primary species cultivated for edible shoots. If you have bamboo shoots at a Chinese restaurant, you are eating it. Other Phyllostachys species also edible, but because of its size and common-ness it is the one usually cultivated and sold for shoots. It is very, very common in central China.

Although they are called "timber bamboos", most bamboo harvested for "timber" are actually tropical and subtropical pachymorphs such as Bambusa. Moso is harvested for timber in central China north of the Yangtze river where it is too cold for Bambusas. I think tho that they are not used so much for structural components (as the southern bamboos are) but for hundreds of household items such as chopsticks, rice paddles, and that sort of thing. They are also used for farming and gardening architecture, such as for trellises to support beans, hops, cucumbers, and that sort of thing.

It will grow in the PNW, probably better in the warmer parts, but it is known to be slow to establish. I think someone on Mercer Island has a big grove of it.

It's actually fairly hardy to cold; I think it's summer heat that it needs a little more of. It seems to do better in modified continental climates that are a little warmer and rainier in the summer. It performs well in the cooler parts of the upper and mid southern United States. I've seen pictures of big culms in places like the lake districts of Switzerland.

It has huge culms, the biggest we could grow here (except it rarely hits full size here), but smallish leaves.

Vivax on the other hand is not as big but it hits full size faster than any other bamboo I am aware of in this climate. It is actually the same species as bambusoides (which, contrary to the common name, is not a native of Japan, but of China); it is a particularly fast-growing cultivar with thin-walled culms and big leaves. It is quite coldhardy but unfortunately its thin culms do not stand up well to snow, especially if it hits the first year. They stiffen a little with age not to mention that well-established plants make fatter culms.

I have a picture of my daughter peaking out from behind a vivax culm (in someone else's yard).

I don't have any running bamboos in my own yard--just a few clumpers. A grove would be quite dramatic, and I have a big yard, but I didn't want any lawsuit potentials (although my neighbor actually WANTS a grove--he is very privacy conscious), and I wanted to grow more variety of things. Plus I devoted the backyard to mostly food production. It's the front-yard where I grow most of my exotics.

The above followup was added by Rob Wagner on February 16, 2008 at 10:42 am PST.


Good info Rob, you're spot on with everything, in your post except P.vivax is a completely different species that P.bambusodies. It's hard to tell the two apart at times, but P.bambusodies is a bit slower growing, thicker walled, more acidic for eating, and the culm leafs are different, so that's a good indicator too.
I noticed that the ABS has changed the latin name of Mosa to P.edulis now. I wonder when they will change it again, it's hard to keep up with all the species they change names on every year.

The above followup was added by whitney on February 16, 2008 at 11:30 am PST.

Vivax a bred, not "natural", plant

P. vivax is not a wild species, but was bred.

Bamboos are devilishly hard to classify because of their infrequent blooming. The Japanese have been breeding them for centuries and the Chinese for millenia for various purposes. Vivax was bred from P. bambusoides and is sometimes considered the same species. I'm aware it has bigger leaves and thinner-walled culms, but those were selected traits. It was probably bred to grow fast.

I did not mean that they are synonyms and apologize for the confusion; they are distinct, but one is a cultivar of the other. P. bambusoides is probably closer to the original wild plant.

If you collapse all the cultivated varieties back into their ancestral species, the genus Phyllostachys collapses into about half as many species as are still more-or-less recognized. It is a small genus. That's why they all look so much alike. A lot of the different characteristics, such as variegated culms (in all sorts of interesting colors, stripes, etc), are obviously bred, and not natural. Size has also been tinkered with; some are just smaller versions of others.

Also confusing is the fact that bamboos had a lot of human help spreading around Asia. Naturally they would be quite rare. If you've ever been where they grow, you would notice that you almost only find them in disturbed places. They are common on farmland because the farmers make good use of the culms for agrarian infrastructure, and they also make good windbreaks and are used to keep unstable ground intact. They also show up where forest has been cut down. Unlike their South American counterparts, which aggressively compete for forest canopy, or for that matter their Indian counterparts capable of surviving in the understory, Phyllostachys have almost no ability to compete with forest trees; they shade out easily.

If I had to guess, I would guess that Phyllostachys are naturally native to a small range somewhere in the southwest of China. Probably came up from one of the Gondwanic remnants either in southern Malaysia or India. They are now ubiquitous over a huge area. They and a few other genera like Sasa are quite distinct from most bamboos for having rhizomes; that is why they are so coldhardy (and why most Bamboos aren't). The rhizome can survive below frost level during coldspells that would kill the tops. They probably wandered out of the tropics first as freezebacks (this is occurring among some pachymorphs in the Himalaya now), and then developed significant resistance to freezing.

Sasas spread much further all by themselves. They reached the Kirils and occur naturally in Japan. I don't know how that happened. Land bridge during an Ice Age? Sasas unlike Phyllostachys need no human help spreading, as they can (and do) easily invade forest, being shade-tolerant. They go feral here and are fairly common along streamsides in forests and meadows.

>>I wonder when they will change it again,

They tend to become more accurate when they bloom and a botanist gets ahold of some blossoms. Flowers are considered the most distinctive feature for assigning species.

>>it's hard to keep up with all the species they change names on every year.

Yeah, I know, and not only that, but because they have been so long in cultivation, and the old names stick, you now have multiple names for identically the same species and varieties. That is why I painstakingly list all the ones I know, so that maybe one of them will ring a bell!

The above followup was added by Rob Wagner on February 16, 2008 at 12:52 am PST.

where you get that info?

The American Bamboo Society, and every organization I know of classifies them as distinct species(check ABS species list). I don't know if you're right or wrong, that's just the first time I have ever heard that mentioned and I've done alot of reading on the phyllostachy genus. Where did you hear/read that?

The above followup was added by whitney on February 17, 2008 at 11:16 am PST.

Not interested in your opinion (or ABS)

>> I don't know if you're right or wrong

And personally, I don't care.

The above followup was added by Rob Wagner on February 17, 2008 at 12:10 am PST.

Edit "not saying you're right or wrong"

It wasn't my intention to offend you that's just the first time I have heard that, it's actually intersting what you have wrote, and I never heard it mentioned before.
My appologies for offending you.

The above followup was added by whitney on February 17, 2008 at 2:56 pm PST.

reasonable question

In spite of the brush-off, Rob, the question still remains as to your source. Asking for a evidence as to why P. vivax should be collapsed into P. bambusoides is perfectly reasonable given the gravity of authority -- the International Association for Plant Taxonomy (there is none higher) -- that has maintained the specific status of both species. Individual botanists can spout and fume all they want, but new species are not sanctioned, and old species are not discontinued until the change has been "published" and adopted by an International Botanical Congress. Then the IAPT recommends changes from the literature based on hard evidence. Article 56 of the Vienna Code establishes the burden of proof for rejection:

Article 56

56.1. Any name that would cause a disadvantageous nomenclatural change (Art. 14.1) may be proposed for rejection. A name thus rejected, or its basionym if it has one, is placed on a list of nomina utique rejicienda (App. V). Along with the listed names, all combinations based on them are similarly rejected, and none is to be used (see Rec. 50E.2).

P. vivax does not appear in Appendix V of the Vienna Code and so its rejection is in want of substantiation. While there are many "clumpers" among bamboo taxonomists who would like to redraw where the borders of the taxa fall, they are obligated to provide flower morphology, DNA sequencing data or other credible evidence to back up their hypothesis. Until they do so, the claim of conspecificity is purely imaginative. The preponderance of evidence at present would suggest that the two species are both valid:

1. The two appear to be reproductively isolated. While the flowers are similar, they flower at different times, and more importantly, at different intervals (P. bambusoides will flower at least three times in the period it takes for P. vivax to flower twice). Intergrade forms between the two are unknown.

2. Both species have a multitude of man-made cultivars that vary from each other, yet are clearly assignable to the type morph of their respective species and flower synchronously with the type, i.e., there are no intergrade cultivars.

3. P. vivax has a large range in southern China and there is no evidence...none that I have ever seen, at suggest that its range is anything other than a natural one.

4. P. vivax has a much reduced silica-uptake ability when compared to P. bambusoides, suggesting an evolutionary adaptation to a different soil geology in a different geographic region.

The above followup was added by Steve in Brookings on February 17, 2008 at 5:18 pm PST.

Hi there, MOSO info

I have been monitoring your posts for quite some time now on various PNW related issues..

I am a bamboo nut and belong to the international bamboo society,

Regarding Moso: Moso takes quite some time (15-20 years) to get going in any climate and it CAN obtain timber here in the PNW. There are a few examples of moso obtaining this 3-4" x 45ft size in Washington state according to several contacts.

The key with moso is to have excellent loamy soil, grass mulch /leaf mulch topping and full sun.
One other thing you might also want to note is that Moso will ONLY thrive in larger 10gal divisions (minimum).

The above followup was added by CJW- in Korea on February 18, 2008 at 10:00 am PST.

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