'Tis the season to buy bamboo

A large stand of bamboo at the Bamboo Garden at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens during the first week of the 31st Annual Winter Bamboo Sale, in Gainesville, Saturday Dec. 8, 2012. The sale will last the through February and has many varieties for sale.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 7:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 7:01 p.m.

It's a case of “let the buyer beware” when it comes to purchasing bamboo at the annual Kanapaha Botanical Gardens sale.

The winter bamboo sale entered its second week Saturday, but several people who were strolling through the park and its extensive bamboo forest said they were not fond of the reedy vegetation that — depending on the species — can spread quickly.

“Some are aware of it and some are not,” Craig Hepworth, Kanapaha's weekend manager, said of the types of bamboos. “For those who are not, we explain it to them.”

Bamboo falls into two broad categories: clumping, which stays where it is planted but grows dense; and running, which — as the name suggests — travels through underground shoots.

In the first week of the sale, 26 people placed orders to buy bamboo. Orders are taken in advance and the tall stalks are dug for each order to ensure freshness. They are bagged for buyers, who then pick them up.

Kanapaha sells both running and clumping bamboo. The bamboo garden is the largest public collection in the state. Walk through it and you half expect to be ambushed by a tiger or see a panda munching away.

But the handful of people exploring the bamboo forest Saturday afternoon — including some who already had experimented with bamboo — were not interested in buying any.

“I had some in the backyard. They did well for 10 years and then it just got to be too much,” said Dorothy Bowes. “I tried to dig them out myself and I couldn't do it. I finally had to have a professional come and grind them up and get it out for me. But it is beautiful.”

Anne Phillips also had bamboo that got to be too much.

“I tried to kill it. Sometimes I've gone two or three years without and then all of a sudden, there it is again,” she said.

But bamboo can add a dramatic and tropical touch to a landscape, and is effective at providing screening.

And it is fairly popular -- this is the 31st edition of Kanapaha's sale. Costs vary depending on the type and range from $25 for running varieties such as marbled and arrow bamboo to $385 for blue bamboo, a tall clumper with bluish canes.

Among the most popular is wong chuk, which can grow to 40 feet.

Running bamboos can be contained to prevent spreading through subterranean barriers or the removal of unwanted shoots.

Hepworth said that failure to contain it can result in environmental issues.

“The runners are the ones you hear all of the horror stories about — how they will take over the world,” Hepworth said. “There is one native species of bamboo, and it is a running bamboo but for the non-native running bamboos, it definitely is an issue because they can spread into native ecosystems. For the clumping bamboos, if you are planting it as part of the humanscape, it is not much of an issue for invading natural ecosystems.”

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