Visiting living bamboo collections can be an excellent way to get to know bamboos. For those in the US & Europe, where native bamboos are scarce or non-existent, this is the only way to see a good range of full-sized living bamboos. This is also a good way to gain an understanding of characteristics such as clump habit and branching, and to see the full range of variation in mature plants. More...
More... There are some pitfalls, however. The time of year is often critical for identification, as young shoots have the most distinctive characteristics, and more delicate components, especially apical appendages, bristles and hairs are often quickly deciduous. It should also be noted that misidentification in living collections is still quite common. The older the label, the more suspect the name. Even in the most illustrious of institutions, a degree of creativity was sometimes applied to the name labels. Many collections replicate the bamboos cultivated elsewhere, and it can be very confusing to say the least when different institutions grow them under different names, so beware, but visitors should be sympathetic to growers who feel obliged to label plants, but are baffled by bamboo variability and their difficult nomenclature.
When visiting collections, it is very easy to forget the characteristics of the plants growing at home, especially while inundated with the wealth of similar plants in a large collection. Surely my plant didn’t have this ring here, and I never saw hairs like those on my plant, or did I? And once back home again your own plants look so different and memories of the plants in the other garden become hazy. Several return trips may be involved. Therefore other methods of identification are required in addition to visits to bamboo collections, however useful they can be.
Please remember that removing parts of the plants to take home for comparison may be illegal, especially if a spade and bin-liner are involved. Taking home material and bringing in your own plants to compare are great ways of spreading pests and diseases, which may sometimes not be under as much control in a living collection as they are, or should be, in a commercial nursery. So don’t spread pests, don’t forget the camera and notebook, give yourself lots of time, and try not to get too distracted by all the other exciting plants. One tip—bamboo collections look great in the rain. They are fun whatever the weather, and you will get them all to yourself.