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Surprising Facts: Bamboos are Grasses

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A bamboo forest in Asia.

Despite their size, the bamboos are grasses, that is, they belong to the Poaceae, like the grasses in our lawns and the wheat in our fields. Unlike conventional grasses, however, their stems are woody and persist from one year to thenex, so we could describe them as being “woody grasses”.

The tallest of the bamboos, Dendrocalamus giganteus, a tropical Asian species, can reach up to 160 feet (50 meters) in height, equivalent to a 15 story building. It is also the fastest growing plant in the world, reaching up to 3 feet (90 cm) per day.

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Pygmy bamboo

On the opposite end of the scale, the smallest bamboo, pygmy bamboo (Pleioblastus pygmaeus) doesn’t exceed 8 inches (20 cm) in height, at least when grown in full sun, and can in fact be used as a no-mow lawn. Among the most cold-resistant of all bamboos, it will grow in hardiness zones 4 to 10.

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Japanese knotwood may have hollow stems like a bamboo, it is not a grass at all.

Note that the pernicious weed sometimes called Mexican bamboo, American bamboo or Quebec bamboo, Fallopia japonica, is not a bamboo at all, but belongs to a very different family, the Polygonaceae or buckwheat family. It is more correctly referred to as Japanese knotweed.20160920a

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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