Plants shrub-like to subarboreous, usually densely clumping; rhizomes pachymorph, necks similar in length, up to 30 cm. Culms in a single dense to loose clump (unicespitose), to 7 m tall and 3.5 cm in diam., erect or curving at base, apically nodding to pendulous; internodes to 50 cm, terete, usually finely ridged, without fine purple spots, usually blue-grey with light persistent wax, becoming glossy; nodes scarcely to moderately raised. Branches 3--7 per mid-culm node at first, above promontory, subequal, deflexed, or basally erect but arching out, lateral branch axes lacking subtending sheaths; buds at mid-culm lanceolate, with 2 often very tall, single-keeled bracts, open at front (closed at culm base), 3--9 initials visible within. Culm sheaths usually long-triangular, papery and deciduous (rarely oblong, thickened and persistent); blades long, reflexed, deciduous. Leaf sheaths usually persistent; blade usually matt, thin, venation distinctly tessellate, either persistent or deciduous in winter. Synflorescence ebracteate, semelauctant; branching paniculate, erect, never unilateral, usually long-exserted from narrow subtending sheath, often fasciculate in dense panicles. Spikelets several-flowered; glumes basally loose, and frequently subtending reduced non-viable buds. Stamens 3. Stigmas 3. Named after Norman L. Bor, forester and grass taxonomist of the Indian Forest Service and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
Borinda is a temperate to subtropical genus that currently contains 21 species, native to the Sino-Himalayan mountains from C Nepal to S Vietnam and W Sichuan. Many species have high local economic value and great horticultural potential. They are often indigenous to dwindling forest areas or individual mountain tops, and are thus potentially threatened with extinction as forests are cleared and climate change pushes species up the mountains.
Difficult to distinguish from Fargesia without flowers, but leaves are usually thinner, a fresher, matter green, and culms are usually finely ridged, with either longer and more triangular culm sheaths, or thickened persistent culm sheaths in the species with very deciduous leaf blades. Similar to Yushania but with shorter more consistent rhizomes, thus clump-forming not running, and with leaf blades arranged in a more regular fashion. Sometimes included in a broad interpretation of Yushania.
Most of the species have been described relatively recently, nearly all initially in Fargesia. Species of Borinda cannot technically be included in Fargesia, on grounds of morphology and phylogeny, yet Borinda is currently often treated as part of Fargesia, simply to keep all Borinda species in the same place, rather than dividing them between Fargesia and Borinda. As many as 20 or more further species of Fargesia are likely to really be Borinda instead, but this cannot be proven without flowers, close examination of good collections of vegetative material/living plants, or DNA analysis.
The identification of a large number of new Borinda introductions remains highly problematic, and may not be possible without more botanical fieldwork in their rather remote natural habitats.
Large stature hardy clump-forming bamboos are the holy grail of bamboo horticulture. Hardy species such as those in Fargesia and Thamnocalamus are rather small, while larger species such as those in Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, Drepanostachyum and Himalayacalamus are not sufficiently hardy. Therefore I was very excited to encounter Borinda grossa in the snow in Bhutan in 1985, growing taller than the houses, and producing substantial culms from well-behaved clumps which, unlike like those of Phyllostachys or Yushania, will not spread widely. Several species have since been introduced from Yunnan, Tibet, Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh.
A group of smaller, hardier species are very deciduous in winter. Although many bamboos shed a proportion of their leaves before winter, the routine annual fall of nearly all the leaf blades, as seen in these species, is unusual in the woody bamboos. Associated with thickened, more persistent sheaths and high altitude habitats up to 4000m, this would appear to be an adaptation to extreme cold and hence low water availability. The branching of this group of species is basally more erect, starting within the confines of persistent culm sheaths, and the internodes are flattened to slightly sulcate above the branches. None of these species have auricles or oral setae on the leaf sheaths. Spikelets are dark and narrower, and their rhizome necks can be longer relative to culm size. B. emeryi from the Himalayas, and several Chinese species such as B. frigidorum and F. melanostachys seem to fall in this group. I would have liked to describe it as a new genus Tongpeia, in honour of Yi Tong Pei, who pioneered the modern enumeration of Sino-Himalayan temperate bamboos despite enormous challenges in geography and culture, but I don’t think I could get it accepted for publication and given that Borinda is still not recognized after 25 years, I strongly doubt if anyone but me would ever recognize Tongpeia. However, separating Tongpeia would make it easier to distinguish Borinda.
Stapleton, C.M.A. (1998). New combinations in Borinda (Gramineae–Bambusoideae). Kew Bull. 53: 453–459.
Stapleton, C.M.A. (2000). New half-hardy bamboos from the Sino-Himalayan region. Amer. Bamboo Soc. Newsl. 21 (4): 16–21, with Bor biography
Stapleton, C.M.A. (2006). New taxa and combinations in cultivated bamboos (Poaceae: Bambusoideae). Sida 22(1): 331–332.