This is the time of year when bamboo populations are on the increase, when the tips of fresh new culms pushup briskly from the earth. Fat, skinny, black, brown or green, they grow with tremendous vitality towards the light. They look like projectiles rooted in the soil and are a surprising testimony to the great regenerative forces of nature. In an age of diminishing resources, this lively renewal is a balm to the soul.
There are two basic types of bamboo: clumping and running. In Guápiles, a town on the Caribbean slope, the persistent heat and rainfall make clumping bamboo the ideal choice for the garden. This type of bamboo stays where you put it, while the running type of bamboo is much more invasive. For those with small areas to plant and property lines to respect, a clumping bamboo is best because it is self-limiting and does not make for quarrels with neighbors.
Clumping varieties come in a range of sizes from graceful diminutives to giants 30 meters (98.5 feet) high. There are varied shades and sizes of foliage and thick or thin culms in yellow, green, black, tan, gray or stripes. There are 30 of these species in my garden, which I call “La Magda.”
In Costa Rica, there are many kinds of bamboo available, but a good many of them are exotic species from other parts of the world. Even the most common bamboo, Bambusa vulgaris, is a native of Madagascar and was introduced here to be used for props in banana plantations, a practice that has since been superseded by aerial cables and plastic twine.
There are species native here, particularly those of the genus Chusquea found along the Cerro de la Muerte (the highest point of the Inter-American Highway south), but they often lean