Buddhas Belly Bamboo Explained
Buddhas Belly Bamboo Explained – A Belly full of Information.
There is much confusion created by the vague common names of Giant Buddha’s Belly & Buddha’s Belly given to the two Buddha Belly species of Bamboo. And one popular myth I’d like to address here.
Firstly we have Bambusa vulgaris ‘Wamin’ or Giant Buddha’s Belly. This is the one we most commonly recommend for gardens, whilst the Bambusa ventricosa is often named small Buddha’s Belly. Why would we recommend a “Giant” Bamboo for gardens you ask ? The basic truth is that the word “Giant” actually refers to the belly size and not the plants overall size. The B. vulgaris ‘Wamin’ culms can easily get to 120mm diameter due to the very bellied habit of this plant. The larger the belly the shorter the plants overall height as it is only the bellying that keeps the plant short. I have seen a few clump of Giant Buddha’s Belly over the years that were quite un-bellied and these reached an easy 12 metres tall as the space between each node was greatly extended from the bellied form, and almost unrecognizable as Wamin.
Why would this happen? Traditional Bamboo belief is it is related to conditions and where the plant is grown, how much stress the plant is under etc. with the general opinion being the more stress the more bellied the plant. My opinion on this is (sorry to the purists) “BULL”, or at best, conditions affect the plants belly shape only slightly.
I have grown beautifully bellied culms under perfect conditions with lots of water and fertilizer and I have had absolutely zero bellies on plants grown in “harsher than any plant should be subjected to” conditions i.e. pot-bound on a hot concrete slab for a few years with rainfall (and not much of it) only for water.
So if not conditions, what is the trick to obtaining nice bellys on these plants? My opinion is BREEDING. If I have a clump of Buddhas in my garden and it produces 10 culms and needs a thin out and 5 of the culms look great and nicely bellied while the remaining culms are not quite so well shaped, which ones do I cut out? I leave the best culms in the clump and get rid of the less bellied ones to maintain my parent clump in the best condition. Now if I was to believe that “conditions create the bellied culms“, I would feel no problem at all to put all those removed straight culms into propagation material (no one likes to waste any Bamboo propagation material especially a nursery). As I don’t buy into this theory, I ensure that all unbellied material that is removed from plants is placed on the fire heap and NEVER used for propagation material. Propagating from straight culms would be the first step away from producing a nice bellied form of Buddha Belly. However if propagation is taking place with unbellied culms by suppliers, soon we have un-bellied Buddhas being sold as plants that will only reach 4-5 metres tall when in fact the unbellied plants will get a lot larger than this and be messy and ugly too!
The Bambusa ventricosa taught me this. While they make an excellent potted plant we don’t suggest planting these out just yet as I believe the Belly feature of this plant to be quite unstable.
If I take 10 beautiful nicely bellied plants from my nursery and plant them out I find that 5 will develop nice compact plants to 2-3 metres tall and that’s great. The remaining 5 plants will revert back to an ugly green and rather massive tangled bamboo plant to 10 metres or more in height- certainly not what anyone I know wants! Note that these plants are all given identical treatment yet some belly and some don’t, its all in the breeding people. When I can get the belly feature to stabilize or get hold of a more stable clone of ventricosa I think it will be a great garden plant.
Further evidence exists for ventricosa in the form of Bambusa ventricosa “kimmei” the golden form. While some bellied forms do exist I’m yet to see one in Australia and while it’s been very easy to find the plant for sale, I am yet to find a grower who can promise me nice bellied culms. The un-bellied upright form of this plant is quite a good plant but “Buddha Belly”, it is not.
No doubt it will delight someone to go out and prove me wrong on some of these points but to date this has been my experience with these 2 species. But hey, when we call ourselves experts we stop growing don’t we?