Rhizome neck 5--15 cm long. Culms 2--3 m, 0.3--1 cm in diam., erect to nodding; internodes 10--15 cm, cylindrical, smooth, glabrous, with light powdery wax at first, wall 2--5 mm thick; nodes with weakly prominent supra-nodal ridge, sheath scar more prominent and narrowly ridged, shortly setose to tomentose, branches 7--14, sheathing initially bright red-brown, us. erect, or decurrent. Culm sheaths slowly deciduous, leathery, light red-brown, narrowly rounded-triangular or narrowly rounded, slightly shorter than internodes, lightly orange-red setose at first, persistently on base and distal margins with cilia to 2mm, ribs prominent, lateral ones reddened; auricles indistinct to distinct, to 1 mm, rounded, tomentose; oral setae prominent, brown, ca. 6 mm, erect or spreading, basally scabrous; ligule very short, ca. 0.5 mm, arcuate, initially ciliolate; blade triangular or linear-lanceolate, erect or decurrent, glabrous. Leaves 3--4 per ultimate branch; sheath glabrous, external margin initially shortly ciliate; auricles obovate to oblong; oral setae 2--6 mm, separated, spreading, wavy, glabrous, ligule ca. 1 mm, truncate, tomentose; blade lanceolate, 5--10 × 0.6--1.2 cm, base cuneate, abaxial glabrous or proximally shortly pilose at first, secondary veins 3--4-paired, one margin spinescent-serrulate, the other obscurely serrulate, transverse veins distinct. Shooting April to August.
Native to S Shaanxi, S Gansu, W Hubei, and E Sichuan at 1500--2200 m, and one of the main food sources for the Giant Panda.
F. dracocephala has been considered to represent variation within F. decurvata, which was published first, with a poor description that obscured similarities. F. dracocephala has less pubescence on leaf blades, narrower culm sheath blades, more distinct culm sheath auricles with oral setae that are often more spreading and longer, and possibly more erect branching. This would presumably make it F. decurvata var. dracocephala, but this varietal combination has not been published.
A vigorous species with great horticultural potential, shooting very early and again later in the year, now widely cultivated. Grown first in the west under the name Gansu 95-1, then misidentified as Yushania confusa and then as F. rufa, because of the orange colouration of young sheaths and hairs. The tall leaf sheath auricles with wavy oral setae are distinctive, and their shape is reminiscent of a dragon’s head complete with flames. Cultivar name ‘Rufa’ and trade name Green Panda have been applied to the same clone, which is excellent where a dense upright ca. 3 m screen is required, although the clumps are rather open and will expand substantially.
A different species, F. apicirubens, was misidentified as F. dracocephala until 2006.
F. dracocephala ‘Rufa’ was collected in S Gansu and sent to Holland (as Fargesia spathacea), from around 34°20'N, 106°E in S Gansu in 1995, between 1800 & 2500 m, by Shanghai Botanic Gardens.