Sandy’s Garden ... Lucky Bamboo

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

We always have at least one vase of flowers and several pot plants, preferably in flower, decorating our home.

The flowers we usually buy: but the pot plants are a mixture of purchases, previously-flowered plants which have been rested and resuscitated and gifts. That last category includes a recent arrival, brought by good friends whom we welcomed to our home a couple of weeks ago. It’s a lucky bamboo and I’m not too sure how to categorise it, for it’s not a vase of flowers and, as it stands, it’s not really a pot plant. Let me explain.

The advice leaflet which came with this gift explains that it is an easily-maintained plant. There is no need to transplant it, nor indeed any need to put it in soil; it doesn’t need any fertiliser and, not being fussy whether it is kept in bright or dim light, can be placed in any part of the room. Its only requirement is water. So in many ways its care is akin to that applicable to cut flowers rather than that needed by a pot plant: but it’s not a vase of flowers. Nor is it properly a bamboo, despite its common name. True bamboos, of which there are quite a number, are all members of the family of plants called Gramineae. But so-called ‘lucky bamboo’ is a species of the genus Dracaena, this particular member of the family being Dracaena braunii, otherwise called Dracaena sanderiana, the family name Dracaena from the Greek drakaina, meaning ‘a female dragon’ while braunii was named after Alexander Carl Heinrich Braun, a nineteenth century German botanist. Another German-born plant collector and nurseryman of the nineteenth century, Henry Frederick Conrad Sander … famous for his orchid nursery near St. Albans … has also had his name commemorated in the self-same plant. The plant has quite a few ‘common’ names apart from ‘lucky bamboo’, being known, among other names, as curly bamboo, Belgian evergreen, Sander’s, friendship bamboo, Goddess of Mercy and Chinese water bamboo.

Despite that last name, the plant is not, in fact, native to China. It hails originally from Cameroon in tropical West Africa although it is now to be found in cultivation worldwide, usually as a decorative indoor plant. And why is it called ‘lucky bamboo’? Well, I learn that the Chinese believe it is good for Feng Shui which, like wind and water, involves movement, flow and circulation. In Chinese belief, all life is animated by an essential energy called ‘chi’ which must be free-flowing and in harmony with the forces of nature. Feng Shui assists in achieving this harmony, a harmony which is essential if we are to enjoy health, wealth and happiness. Hence any plant which assists Feng Shui brings blessings in its wake. The lucky bamboo presented to us has six stalks which, in the Chinese tradition, will bring us prosperity. Let’s hope that turns out to be correct.

I also learn that, although the instructions about caring for my lucky bamboo are correct, the plant may do better if it is planted into potting compost, where it should be fed every month with a balanced, preferably organic, houseplant fertiliser. The compost should be free-draining and kept moist and never allowed to become wet; and the plant will enjoy being misted occasionally, for its native environment offers humid conditions. Similarly, though it is tolerant of dim lighting, my lucky bamboo will be happier in bright, indirect light. It really is unlikely to survive a Scottish winter outdoors and, even tended lovingly as a houseplant, is unlikely to flower. Lucky bamboos seem to be unattractive to most houseplant pests, but it is advisable to check for aphids and spider mite from time to time. And, while I sympathise with the pests and feel no urge to nibble my plant, I shall end on a caveat, quoting exactly from the care leaflet supplied with my plant. “For decoration only; do not eat.”