July 3, 2008 · Updated 8:20 PM
I n recent years, a houseplant known as Lucky Bamboo has become wildly popular, likely as a result of the Western worlds resurgent fascination with feng shui. The slender, green canes are sold everywhere from convenience stores to florist shops
Feng shui (pronounced fung shway) is the ancient Chinese practice of positioning objects to create a balance of the elements earth, water, wood, metal and fire. This is said to bring harmony and increase the flow of positive energy, or chi. Bamboo is the feng shui wood of choice, but since it isnt practical to cultivate true bamboo indoors, growers in Asia began substituting a member of the lily family, Dracaena sanderiana. Its resemblance to bamboo, vertical grace, and easy adaptation to indoor growing conditions make it a lucky plant indeed.
Lucky bamboo is a traditional gift at weddings, housewarmings, and at the start of a new year. Said to enhance prosperity, it is often given at grand openings of new businesses. In fact, it is the near-perfect office plant, because it does well in windowless cubicles lit only by fluorescent lights.
Dracaena sanderiana is native to tropical rainforests, where it grows as an understory plant, rooted in swampy soil, shaded by the giant leaves and fronds of taller flora. In homes and offices, it usually reaches two to three feet in height, and can be grown either in uniformly moist soil, or more often, in water.
If you received one of these exotic-looking plants for Christmas, or would like to buy one to begin the new year, here are a few tips:
Most lucky dracaenas are sold growing in water, roots encapsulated in small plastic bags. Remove the bag and set the canes in a vase or bowl. Gently add washed pebbles or marbles to hold the canes in place. You may want to bind the canes together with a rubber band, or the traditional Chinese red cord. Add enough water to cover the pebbles or marbles, plus another inch above them. Dont ever allow the water to evaporate from the container, or your bamboo wont be lucky at all. It will be dead.
And dont replenish with just any water. If youre on a municipal water system, chlorine, fluoride and other chemical treatments will cause the plant to yellow and eventually die. In some areas of the Island, even well water is heavy with salts and minerals that may harm your plant. The salts used in water softeners will cause leaf tips and edges to brown. In all cases, its best to use bottled, distilled water, or boil and cool the water you use for your dracaena. Change the water weekly to avoid stagnation.
Never set your dracaena in direct sunlight. Remember, its home is beneath the shady, rainforest canopy. Bright, indirect light or artificial lighting is best.
Lucky bamboo doesnt need much fertilizer. About once a month, it doesnt hurt to add an extremely dilute solution (about a tenth of the recommended dilution rate) of a mild houseplant fertilizer when you change the water. Too much fertilizer can burn delicate roots. If the canes begin to yellow, change the water right away, and hold back on plant food for another month.
Lucky bamboo is often sold growing in spirals, curves, weaves, and other fanciful forms. This is not natural, but the plants forgiving nature allows growers to contort its shape by concentrating and withholding light in various ways in the greenhouse. This is not something easily done at home. However, you can help maintain a spiral-shaped cane by placing the plant in an area where light comes into the room from one side. As it reaches for the light, it will grow in that direction. Rotate it slightly and frequently to keep the curl going.
According to the Washington Poison Control Center, Dracaena sanderiana is not toxic to humans, but can cause life-threatening illness in dogs and cats. Be sure to place your lucky bamboo where beloved pets cant munch on them.
In feng shui tradition, the numbers three (happiness) and eight (wealth) are lucky. Therefore, many people grow either three or eight lucky bamboo canes. However, there are other numbers with traditional significance. Love is signified by two canes, often intertwined. (Now theres an original, inexpensive wedding gift!). Five represents health, nine brings good fortune and happiness.
At the dawn of this new year, on behalf of all Island County-WSU Master Gardeners, I wish you love, peace, good health, much wealth, and many happy, soul-satisfying days of great gardening!
Mariana Graham writes this column as part of her volunteer efforts as an Island County-WSU Master Gardener. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.