Plants not only provide clean air, food, shelter, and beauty, but some may even bring you energy or luck. Bamboo is one such plant that is often associated with feng shui and luck. Feng shui is the art of harmonizing energy forces to positively impact people and options in the surrounding environment. Lucky bamboo, in particular, is a plant you’ll often find available at supermarkets, gift shops, garden stores, and home-improvement centers. This plant can come in small, decorative pots to add accent to homes and offices or can also be added to outdoor landscapes.
One concern some gardeners have about lucky bamboo is whether it’s invasive. At Mr. Tree, we want to take a look at bamboo versus lucky bamboo—yes, they’re two different things—and shed light on whether lucky bamboo would be a good addition for your landscaping and décor needs.
What It Means to Be an Invasive Species
Invasive plants are non-native plant species that can cause harm when introduced to new ecosystems. They invade natural and agricultural areas and can cause serious damage to the environment, economy, and even human health.
A few examples of some invasive plants locals may have seen in and around the Portland and Vancouver areas are English ivy and holly, garlic mustard, and Scotch broom. While invasive species are sometimes spread through unintentional or natural causes, like seed transmission via birds or through various trades and exports, unsuspecting gardeners looking to add variety to their landscapes can also spread them.
True bamboo, of the subfamily Bambusoideae, is a plant native to all continents except Europe. They’re woody perennials that can seem very tree-like. Bamboo is the largest species of the grass family Poaceae. During the springtime, some species of bamboo can grow up to 36 inches a day. A typical height range for bamboo is 12 to 39 feet.
There are two different growth types of bamboo: running and clumping. Clumping bamboo tends to spread slowly and expand the root system gradually. Running bamboo, however, is very aggressive and can spread quickly, requiring heightened diligence during cultivation. The root system can spread as far as 20 feet from its original planting clump.
Due to its spreading abilities, true bamboo, especially running bamboo, is argued by some to be an invasive species. However, if you want to add this beautiful specimen to your landscape and are willing to put in the effort, it can be controlled. When planted, it should be done with great care, after talking to landscaping professionals—such as our trained arborists at Mr. Tree—and only after verifying your local restrictions.
Lucky bamboo, or Dracaena sanderiana, does not actually come from the bamboo family. It’s a flowering plant from the family Asparagaceae, native to Central Africa. Unlike real bamboo, lucky bamboo can only grow to just over three feet tall.
Besides being of a generally smaller height then standard bamboo, it also has a fleshy stem, unlike the firm, wood-like stem of bamboo. As lucky bamboo doesn’t fall in the same family or have the same traits as true bamboo, it’s not considered an invasive species by any horticulturalists. It’s safe to plant within your landscape. Though, many prefer to keep it indoors in small planters due to its symbolic nature.
Bamboo has long been used in the Chinese art of feng shui. It’s often correlated with strength, resilience, and luck. The deep roots of the plant represent resoluteness, the tall straight stem indicates honor, and the hollow exterior is openness and modesty. Due to this symbolism, lucky bamboo arrangements are often given as gifts to bring good health and luck.
Lucky bamboo arrangements, in particular, represent the elements of earth, wood, water, metal, and fire. The plant itself represents wood, the pebbles in the container denote earth, the coins or a figurine represent metal, a red ribbon tied around the plant represents the fire, and the container holds water to nourish the plant.
It’s important to also understand that the number of stalks in a lucky bamboo arrangement also has its own symbolism and may impact what you choose to cultivate in your own house. Two stalks symbolize love and marriage, three stalks are for happiness, five for health, eight represent wealth and abundance, and nine are for good fortune.
For those practicing feng shui, four-stalk arrangements should not be used because, in Chinese, the word for the number four is close to the word for death and could bring negative energy to the home.
Tips for Care and Cultivation
While lucky bamboo is a pretty sturdy plant, they do prefer warmer temperatures. If you’re looking to grow them in Vancouver or Portland, we recommend opting for a smaller potted or vase version that can be kept inside. Lucky bamboo can survive as just a root system in water for about a year. After that, it will need to have nutrients, or it will start to yellow and die. You can either transplant it into soil or add a few drops of liquid houseplant fertilizer to the water every month or so.
It’s important to note that if planted in the ground, lucky bamboo will lose its bamboo-like appearance and will fill out with a leaf-like shape. It also doesn’t do well with tap water minerals or chlorine. So, for best practice, use distilled water or rainwater, and remember to change the water entirely every couple of weeks.
When it comes to lighting, lucky bamboo prefers bright indirect light. While they can survive in dimmer light, they won’t do well in direct sunlight, as this will scorch the leaves.
We also recommend paying attention to the root systems, as these are a good indicator of a plant’s health. Red roots are normal, but black roots are an indicator the plant is dying, and these roots need to be cut away. Overall, lucky bamboo is a great, non-invasive addition to a yard, a desk, or a shelf. With its relative ease of care and its beautiful symbolism, it will bring joy to beginner and expert gardeners alike.