(Editor's Note: this article was originally published on March 23, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The meaning of Lucky Bamboo
‘Lucky Bamboo' has long been associated with the Eastern practice of ‘Feng Shui' - bringing the five elements of water, fire, wood, metal and earth into harmony within their environment. It is now the most popular Feng Shui symbol on the market.
The Lucky Bamboo plant itself is the ideal combination of wood and water; the stalks are generally placed in pebbles (signifying earth), the red ribbon that is often seen tied around the bundles is the symbol of fire, which is believed to support the flow of energy or chi around the dwelling. The glass in which it is placed falls under ‘metal' in Feng Shui, (and if a different container is used often a coin is placed in the vase). Giving the plant is supposed to bring good fortune both to the giver and the recipient, and this is a reason why the plant is often given as a wedding gift or at the time of the Chinese New Year.
There are classic numbers: three branches for happiness, five for good health, two for love and marriage, eight for wealth and abundance, and nine - considered especially lucky - for overall good fortune and happiness. The number four is to be avoided - since it is associated with death.
Lucky bamboo has been in use as a good luck symbol in Asian cultures for over 4000 years. In Chinese, it is called "Fu Gwey Zhu". Fu means Wealth, Gwey means Power, Honor; Zhu is Bamboo.
From plant to symbol
First of all - this is not bamboo. The plant in question is Dracaena Sanderiana. After harvesting, the tips of the branches are cut and sealed, and the bundle of sticks (as few as three, and as many as - MANY) is placed in clear water. It can survive like this for years.
The branches are cut just above a segment in the plant. The cut tip will be allowed to dry and is then covered with wax. This will allow a new shoot to grow on the side of the branch.
Lucky bamboo is frequently seen growing in unusual twisted, curved, or spiraling forms, which seem to enhance its appeal and sense of mystery. The curving shapes are produced by laying the plants on their sides, with light directed from the top and shielded from each side, causing them to grow in one direction only toward the light. The plants are rotated regularly to encourage the spiraling form. Naturally, this is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process which justifies the often steep prices. The stalks are sometimes braided into intricate forms, or bundled in a number of tiers.
Caring for your Lucky Bamboo
Keep the water in the container always clear and fresh. It is best to replace it weekly. Chlorinated water is bad for your plant and it would be good to either let the water stand for a day or use bottled water. The plant naturally grows under the canopy of large trees, so it is best to keep it in a shaded but fairly bright spot. Direct sun will cause the leaves to burn, and too little light will make for spindly, weak plants. If you feel a little fertilizer is in order always use it at a diluted strength.
If you own a ‘tower' of several levels it is important to keep it rotating regularly to ensure all parts of the bundle receive their share of light.