Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) is one of the most popular ornamental varieties of bamboo in China and Japan, but it is also one of the oldest varieties of bamboo grown in the United States, having first been introduced into the country in 1827. Black bamboo can grow anywhere from 20 to 30 feet in height and has a diameter of 1 to 2 inches. Black bamboo is largely admired by gardeners because its small, bright green leaves contrast sharply with the deep black color of the shoots, or culms. As a building material for furniture, fencing, bars or partitions, black bamboo is likewise admired for its color and finish.
Ideal Growing Conditions
Black bamboo does not do well in hot and dry, windy weather. It has an estimated temperature tolerance of 0˚ Fahrenheit and has been known to grow in states like Washington, D.C. and Maryland. However, while black bamboo can survive in such climates, it is not capable of growing to its fullest potential. In the United States, it thrives most in the cooler climates of the Pacific Northwest.
When growing black bamboo in a home garden, it’s recommended that you plant it in a protected, enclosed space where it can stay cool during its dormant period in the winter. Black bamboo species also require plenty of water in the summer. Black bamboo has a running root system, requiring a thick layer of rich topsoil (4 - 6 inches). Bark mulch with horse manure or compost work fine and provides an ideal top layer through which the bamboo’s rhizomes can spread easily.
Growth and Color Change
When P. nigra shoots emerge from the ground around April or May, they are not black, but rather covered in light burgundy culm sheaths. These specialized sheaths are there to protect the young and still fragile bamboo shoots. By June, black bamboo shoots have finished growing. At this point, the branches begin to unfold and the young culm sheaths are shed. Beneath them is a bright green-colored shoot. The color begins to change in mid-summer, when the shoots start to develop dark brown mottling around the nodes and near the base. By winter, the shoots are densely covered with small black spots that get especially thick towards the base. By the time spring comes around again, black bamboo plants have undergone the complete color transformation, from young green to deeply black mature shoots.
Varieties of Black Bamboo
There are several different varieties of black bamboo. One of the most popular ones is the Bambusa lako, which stands exceptionally upright. Its shoots are a highly polished black with horizontal green stripes. It can take up to two seasons, depending on the size of the plant, to turn fully black. The Gigantochloa atroviolacea, on the other hand, turns a deep black color almost immediately, though it is a less polished black than the Bambusa lako. The bamboo type known as the Black Asper is one of the thickest of the black bamboos. With a cane diameter of 8 to 10 inches, it requires plenty of space to grow.