The demise of the old Fargesia introductions
Fargesia bamboos are well behaved; their roots spread slowly and they don’t ‘take possession’ of the garden. As such, they are the best selling bamboos, especially for small gardens. In the twentieth century, Fargesia murieliae and Fargesia nitida were the only species available. They had been brought to the west by plant hunters as exceptionally hardy, evergreen plants well suited to the creation of dense hedges. These bamboos flower every century or so and after many years of seed production they die. When, in the nineteen nineties first Fargesia murieliae and then Fargesia nitida entered their flowering periods, many botanical gardenmen sought replacement bamboos which would be bloom-safe for another century. The obvious path was to cultivate from the excess of seedlings. The variation in this stock was great. Many weak seedlings were propagated and inferior plants flushed into the market. A critical examination revealed that inbred offspring had produced a new generation of inferior plants.
The search for new Fargesia
Countless inferior seedlings have been propagated and marketed under various names. These plants suffice for the average consumer. But they are not as healthy and beautiful as the original mother plants. The artificial crosses between Fargesia murieliae and different clones of Fargesia nitida, made by Hans Verweij, have produced some extremely beautiful and vital hybrids (‘Fargesia Viking’, ‘Fargesia Pillar’, ‘Fargesia Black Pearl’, ‘Fargesia Winter Joy’ and ‘Fargesia Obelisk’). These plants have begun to flow into the market, slowly reach large garden centers. For small gardens, these plants soon become too big, and vigourous pruning is required. The search for a slow-growing, healthy Fargesia of 1 meter (3 feet) tall and upright growth is still ongoing.
Since China opened its borders to the outside world, many new Fargesias have come to the west. Of these, some, mass propagated through tissue culture, flooded the market. This has not always gone well; sometimes unhealthy stock has been used, and sometimes laboratory treatment has not been appropriate. That has not done the in vitro industry any good at all and its reputation has been damaged. Several growers now avoid the use of “laboratory plants” even though these teething problems are largely a thing of the past. Fargesia rufa, for example, seems to be quite satisfactory when produced from tissue culture. However, nobody yet knows exactly whether there are hidden defects which might yet manifest themselfes; the technique used can result in mutations which may not always be visible on the surface.
New Fargesia stock from Shennongjia
Until recently, we have sorely missed the introduction of the new-generation of Fargesia murieliae from the wild. Wild plants are produced by cross-pollination, as in nature wind spreads the pollen. This plant has also recently bloomed in the wild (after more than a century without flowering!). As many wild populations were to be found in military areas, no specimens could be collected. But a German bamboo collector managed to get around 90 Fargesia seedlings from the Chinese Shennongjia reserve a few years ago. These were planted out and their growth characteristics observed. The variations within the new generation of Fargesia murieliae turned out to be quite marked. In that area Fargesia spathacea bloomed at the same time as Fargesia murieliae. It therefore seems likely that in the wild hybridization occurred, which could explain the wide variation in the seedlings. The need for classifying Fargesias into different types really frustrates us here! If Fargesias mix and match so easily, it would be better to classify the large spread in properties into groups.
Four plants have been picked out from the imported Fargesia murieliae seedlings on the basis of their remarkable characteristics. They are:
Fargesia murieliae “Dragon King”, Fargesia murieliae “Evergreen”, Fargesia murieliae “Blue Dragon” and Fargesia murieliae “Purple Arrows”
These wild, strong species grow faster and are healthier than the ‘inbred’ Fargesia murieliae selections such as “Fargesia Jumbo”, “Fargesia Simba”, “Fargesia Bimbo” (amongst many others) which were self-pollinated from one the same clone. Nursery rights are applicable to these clones, but I predict that they will gradually disappear once the superior Fargesia’s enter the market.
The Fargesia assortment can be found here >>
Hans Prins, April 2014