Blue Bamboo in California
Randy Baldwin, San Marcos Growers
There is considerable confusion surrounding the Blue Bamboo, Himalayacalamus hookerianus,
that is sold in the California nursery trade. San Marcos Growers currently has 4 distinct
clones of Himalayacalamus hookerianus and, as of 2007, is selling 3 of these clones. Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Baby Blue' is the
smallest form we grow, the intermediate form we market as the species, Himalayacalamus hookerianus, and the largest form we sell as
Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue'. The following account documents our history with this plant and what we have discovered about
the varieties that we have.
San Marcos Growers first sold Himalayacalamus hookerianus from 1990 to 1993, then calling it Drepanostachyum falcatum.
We had purchased our stock plants for this crop as liners from Ponto Nursery in the late 1980's. These plants were not
exceptionally strong and began to flower in 1993. These plants have seemly continued to flower to this day, although we have
never collected any viable seed from them. We do not sell this clone but keep it in hope that it will stop flowering, or at least
produce some viable seed. Of the three remaining clones that we continue to produce and sell, two came originally from Abe Nursery
in Carpinteria, CA and the forth was purchased as 'Teague's Blue', from Monterey Bay Nursery.
Robert Abe, who owns and operates Chia Nursery in Carpinteria, CA, worked with his father Lew Abe at the nearby Abe Nursery prior
to starting Chia Nursery. He told me that the Himalayacalamus hookerianus at Abe nursery were all from seed collected from a single
flowering plant they had received in the 1980's mixed with a shipment of Phyllostachys nigra they had purchased from Oda Nursery of
San Juan Capistrano, CA. This original plant yielded seed that produced 12 seedling plants, which were quite variable. Abe Nursery
grew these plants on, divided them and began selling division plants in 1995. San Marcos Growers purchased twenty 15 gallon plants
in 1996 from Abe Nursery and planted the largest plant in the ground and divided the others. We began selling divisions from these
plants by 1997 and continually divided them for several years before noting that the plants we had retained for division stock were
not forming large culms like the original plant we had put in the ground. Our plant in the ground, which had come from this same
source, is now a beautiful specimen with 25 foot tall culms that are ¾ across with narrow deep maroon rings above each culm joint
and pale blue indumentums characteristic of the species but by 2004 the plants we had in production were not producing stems much wider
than ¼ inch and no taller than 6 feet. We have since named this small clone 'Baby Blue', mostly to distinguish it from the
other clones and we market it as a nice hedging bamboo to 6 feet tall with attractive foliage, but do not call it “Blue Bamboo“.
A second clone that we have also originated from Abe Nursery, though we purchased the plants from Robert Abe's Chia Nursery, who had
selected his stock from what he considered the best plants at Abe nursery. This plant appears to be the same clone that we have planted
in our own garden and we sell this plant as the species Himalayacalamus hookerianus. We were at first content with just offering this last
clone at our nursery until seeing a beautiful specimen of Himalayacalamus hookerianus in the Berkeley garden of Marcia Donahue. This plant,
which Marcia told me was called 'Teague's Blue' seemed much more robust than any other Himalayacalamus hookerianus I had ever seen. Shortly
thereafter we purchased plants being sold as Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue' by Monterey Bay Nursery for propagation stock.
Given the previous experience that we had with Himalayacalamus hookerianus and because we like to sell plants true to name, I contacted
Luen Miller at Monterey Bay Nursery regarding where his Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue' came from. Luen noted that his plants
came from several sources but that he had not actually received a plant directly from Bill Teague, the namesake for 'Teague's Blue'. I
also spoke with others who were growing what they were calling 'Teague's Blue' and the general story began to emerge that any Himalayacalamus
hookerianus that grew large was being sold under the name 'Teague's Blue'. This prompted me to contact Bill Teague, a horticulturist in north San Diego county,
to get the story about how Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue' came about. Bill told me that he got a very nice plant of Himalayacalamus
hookerianus from bamboo grower Ken Brennecke. It grew well in his garden and though Bill never named it, people who had received divisions of it from him,
began calling it 'Teague's Blue'.
Following up on this lead, I contacted Ken Brennecke, one of the co-founders of the American Bamboo Society, who told me that believes that his first plants,
like ours, were liners from Ponto Nursery that he had received around 1985 and first noticed flowering in the early 1990's. He worked with the plant for about
3 years and succeeded in getting about 150 seed, all from one 15 gallon specimen. From this seed he was able to germinate and grow 15 seedlings. He grew these
on and later selected 6 or 7 distinct seedling clones. Only two of these clones were ever distributed. One plant he called T8B/3 was given to Bill Teague and
subsequently was named by people who received it from Bill as 'Teague's Blue'. Ken believes that much of what ended up in the trade came from this plant. Another
plant but noted that the only source he was sure of that still had the plant was Bill Teague and Jim Rehor at his nursery RainForest Bamboos. Ken also noted that
he had distributed but, subsequently since lost, a dwarf form that showed no growth higher than a foot while he had it. He noted that none of the other seedling
clones ever made it off of his property. Without considerable costs there is no way now to easily determine if all of
the plants grown in the California nursery trade as Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue' came from the
one plant that Ken Brennecke selected. My suspicion is that nurseries may have been growing various different seedlings and any
that grow tall and robust are likely to be called 'Teague's Blue'.
If anyone has any additional tidbits or
corrections to this information please let us know.