Alphonse Karr bamboo: incredibly beautiful and mild-mannered
Alphonse Karr bamboo is not only incredibly beautiful but mild-mannered too — and a must-have plant for creating that special corner of paradise. You may be thinking, “Are you kidding me, bamboo?” Yes absolutely — don’t forget that it is only a grass.
First know that Alphonse Karr is a clumping bamboo known botanically as Bambusa multiplex, with canes or culms that are bright golden yellow with irregular or random green stripes. For the Japanese Garden, or Tropical Garden, nothing can compete with its look and texture.
Clumping bamboo is not the most-cold hardy but many horticulturists and nursery staffers recommend it for zone 7 and warmer. They report severe damage at zero degrees, but able to make a spring return from the ground. Ours got a little burned at 18 degrees but still looks very showy.
Alphonse Karr forms a natural vase shape with a slow outward spread, allowing you to maintain its size to fit your location. As it grows you can determine the density of your clump by removing or thinning culms — or let it grow to be impenetrable.
Many gardeners are under the impression you simply stick a bamboo in the ground and then run for cover. Like any other plant, bamboo has cultural requirements to get established and then to look its best.
Bamboo grows best in fertile, well-drained soils that are slightly acidic. Similarly to planting a holly, dig the hole twice as large as the rootball but no deeper. You want to plant at the same depth it is growing in the container. Alphonse Karr grows best in sun to part sun and the brighter light just seems to add to the radiance of the bright golden yellow culms.
Alphonse Karr bamboo only grows a short distance before sending up new canes. On clumping bamboo new growth begins in early summer with onset of high temperatures and rainfall. New shoots will continually sprout out right through frost. During the second season these canes will develop side branches and leaves.
As a clumping bamboo it excels as a screen or hedge. We use it as specimen planting at the entrance to our Judge Arthur Solomon Camellia Trail where it is simply unbeatable. Here it is in close proximity to large deep red camellia blossoms. In another area it flanks columns at what was our historical entrance.
Throughout our garden we have about 70 different bamboos from all over the world. We have exotic snakeskin bamboo, ghost bamboo, zigzag bamboo and various black bamboos that are ever so striking. We have bamboo brought to the country by great plant explorers like Frank Meyer, Floyd McClure and David Fairchild. But the Alphonse Karr bamboo, named for a French writer and newspaper man who lived in Nice, is among the showiest in the garden, drawing attention from all who visit. It will do the same for your garden, too.