Night temperatures are still usually dropping well below freezing, as they will for the next few weeks. No matter, because where I am, it’s like summer. Puer-r-r-r-to Rico! Here day temperatures hover in the low 80s, night temperatures in the 70s. Gentle breezes rustle the leaves of palm trees and make these temperatures even more comfortable.

It’s the dry season, especially here in the southeastern portion of the the island, with daily chances of thundershowers meaning nothing more than brief cloudbursts after which beaches, roads, plants – everything – dries quickly. Still, grasses in pastures have that bluish, dry look. Majestic mango trees weighed down with unripe fruit await wet weather in coming months to burst into flowers in preparation for another load of fruit.

This winter’s low of minus 20° F. killed off the tops of my bamboo so I expect this year’s growth from the roots, which do survive, won’t match the 20 foot culms that grew last year. Even at 20 feet, these tall culms don’t hold a candle to some of the tropical bamboos down here in Puerto Rico. A tour of the U. S. Department of Agriculture research station in Mayaguez let me see a number of tropical bamboo species all in one place.

Most dramatically impressive were a couple of the larger species. I’m happy with inch-thick culms from my Phyllostachis aureosculcata plants, a species that is among the hardiest of what I call “timber bamboos.” What a joke, my calling these “timber bamboos.” Bambus vulgaris and Guadua angustifolia culms reach about a half a foot across here in P.R. I would estimate their culm height at about 60 feet.

Ah, the things I could do with such plants. I use my P. aureosculcata canes for some building projects such as lightweight fencing and poles for climbing beans or tomatoes. With those tropical bamboos, I could build a whole house, or, at least, a very decorative garden hut. In fact, Guadua angustifolia is used for construction.

Bamboos generally are fast growing plants. A major difference between most tropical bamboos and most temperate bamboos is that the temperate species spread aggressively via underground runners that scoot along horizontally just a couple of inches or so beneath the ground. I’ve seen culms pop up from runners that have spread 5 feet away from my plants in just a few weeks. Thoroughly digging up these runners is not easy because they are as tough as the culms. I contain my bamboo with a plastic barrier that extends from a couple of inches above ground to 2 feet down into the ground. Still, the runners sometimes creep over the top of the barrier after which I have to pull and dig up the tough lacework that quickly develops just beneath the ground surface.

These topical species would be downright frightening if they spread like the temperate species. Instead of spreading, they grow in well behaved clumps. Clumping makes that impressive Bambus vulgaris even more impressive, the culms soaring skyward and then fanning out like a fountain. As if that wasn’t enough, the variety Vitatta that I saw has yellow culms with forest green lines seemingly brush-stroked – one, two, or three of them – vertically between some of the nodes.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture research station here in Mayaguez also houses the collection of temperate zone bamboo species, including my own Phyllostachis aureosculcata. What a sorry site! The culms were 8 to 10 feet high and looked somewhat piqued. These bamboos, like most other temperate plants – perhaps even some people – don’t thrive with perennially hot weather. They (and we) need their (and our) dose of cold weather each year. Easy for me to say, down here in La Isla Encantada.

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