Bad luck with houseplants? Try lucky bamboo
I should describe lucky bamboo for the two or three of you who have never seen it. This botanical bearer of good fortune is a tabletop plant having jointed green bamboo-like stems with a few slender leaves at the top. The stems are typically "planted" in a decorative ceramic pot or glass vase with rocks or marbles in place of soil. The roots live in water around the rocks. The architectural look of the stems and the simplicity of the few leaves invites creativity. As long as the roots are in water, the sky is the limit on arrangement. Lucky bamboo in quantity can be bundled into towers or woven into a pear or pineapple shape. I haven't even mentioned the curled and curved stems. With time and patience, growers produce lucky bamboo stems that curl in an upward spiral, or curve side to side. Curled and curved stems lead to other graceful design possibilities, such as hearts.
A "good luck" reputation combined with a hardy physiology bestowed popularity on this otherwise unremarkable tropical plant.The plant itself was very lucky when feng shui decorating and gardening became popular. With the feng shui interpretation. healthy plants in a home welcome visitors. Greenery brings good energy and keeps the energy flowing. Bamboo can represent strength, and the upright stems of lucky bamboo can be see as "lifting energy." Beyond this basic symbolism, the form of an arrangment seems to matter. Braided, trellised, or stacked towers of canes are supposed to bestow different kinds of good fortune. Using the symbolism from Chinese traditional bamboo gifts, the number of canes in a particular lucky bamboo planting is said to have special significance. The pros of providential plants seem to disagree, though. I read the following conflicting statements of the promises associated with numbers of bamboo canes:
2 - love OR double blessings
3 - Happiness OR three levels of luck (happiness, long life, wealth)
5 - Health OR wealth OR one cane for each of five aspects of personal success (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, intuitive)
6 - Harmony OR health OR wealth
8, or larger numbers ending in 8 - Prosperity OR fertility
9 - Greatly auspicious (makes sense, three times the special three)
10 - perfectly satisfying
21 - riches and powerful blessings of health
(One number is consistently avoided. Four is not a good number as the Chinese word for four is similar to the word for death.) For what it's worth, a gift of Lucky Bamboo is luckier than buying it for oneself.
It sounds like the vendors took free rein at some point and decided that whatever sold the bamboo was valid. It's all good in the end.
WARNING: Plant Geek Content
Lucky bamboo is not really a bamboo, technically speaking. What appear to be canes or branches of one plant are actually individual cut and rooted stems of a bushy tropical shrub. It is a Dracaena sanderiana, aka Belgian evergreen or ribbon plant. Rainforests of steamy Cameroon, in Africa, are the home of D. sanderiana. Like a few other Dracaenas, this species has been popular as an indoor plant. How the African ribbon plant became an "asian bamboo" is a mystery of modern agriculture and marketing savvy. I'm unable to determine who developed the concept. An anonymous nurseryman must have been inspired by a plant which can be cheaply propagated and is tough enough to tolerate transoceanic shipping and life in water. Adding the "lucky, Asian" reputation to this otherwise unremarkable looking plant gave it the edge it needed.
D. sanderiana is common in dish gardens and your Lucky Bamboo can be transitioned to traditional pot culture if you wish. Cuttings can be rooted with some success, whether of the cane, or by removing the offshoot at the top of the cane and rooting that. Another cane bud should then develop. Once rooted in dirt, treat ribbon plant like other low to medium light tropicals. It can even be grown in a tropical zone 10+ garden. Multiple canes will grow into an unbranched, medium size bush. It will never overrun your yard, as it is not a real Bamboo.
A woven pillar arrangement
Photo provided courtesy of Lucky Bamboo Shop
Lucky bamboo is sold in some nurseries and flower shops, dollar stores or discount stores. If picking out the stems in person, choose only pieces that look healthy and that are kept in a clean display. Leaves are a medium green (possibly with white stripe) and roots are white or orange. Short stems of bamboo sell for a dollar or so. Placed in your own vase or dish, with or without water, they're the cheapest luck money can buy. Longer stems, and curled and curved stems, cost more because of longer production time. Planters with many stems are proportionally more expensive. Lucky bamboo stems and arrangements can be ordered directly from growers via their websites. Remember, you usually "get what you pay for". Some vendors caution about cheap, diseased Chinese stock, claiming that Taiwanese produced material is healthier.
Once placed on desk or table, a lucky bamboo planter needs less care than many other houseplants. Lucky bamboo is a tolerant plant and the water-rooted lifestyle gives it an advantage too. You'll never have to judge soil moisture. Just top off with room temperature water as needed to keep it at the same level. Use filtered water, spring water, or freshwater aquarium water. "City" water has chlorine. If you must use it, leave it in an open container overnight first to allow chlorine to escape. Keep the water level fairly constant in the container. Pour out and fully refresh the water frequently, and immediately do so if you notice any unpleasant rotten odor. The water should always look clear, not cloudy Remembering lucky bamboo's tropical origins, give it a warm and well lit (though not full sun) indoor location. It should do well with standard office lighting or a bright spot in a home. A chill (anything much below 65 degrees F) is more imminently fatal to these tropical natives than dim lighting. One website I came across specified that it will not ship in chilly months of year. Your bamboo may eventually need fertilizer but be careful to only use tiny amount. Fertilizers labeled for hydroponic growing would be most suitable.
The most common, of the few complaints about lucky bamboo, is that a single stem may suddenly turn yellow for no apparent reason. That stem is rotting and should be removed immediately.The rest of the canes are usually fine. Insect complaints are few but if bugs bother your bamboo, try washing them off with warm soapy water, or treat them with insecticidal soap spray.
I wish you luck!
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Thanks go to to our administrator 'melody' who procured and photographed the lucky bamboos in the first picture! Maybe the sensitivity to cold explains why I've had no luck finding lucky bamboo sold anywhere around here in December as I worked on my article.
Another site with information on feng shui : Lovetoknow, article , Lucky Bamboo Meanings by Sally Painter