Bamboo Seeds

If you are lucky enough to see any bamboo seeds, you'll find they are not completely uniform in size but for comparison, they are usually smaller than cereal type seeds or grains.

Bamboo Seeds
Bamboo Seeds

You are unlikely to see your bamboo produce seed because the plant has to flower first and this is known to be unpredictable and sporadic across species, sometimes only known to occur once through thirty to a hundred years. Although there are species that do flower regularly, in general they do not.

Some species flower gregariously. Gregarious flowering means that all bamboo from one clone will flower at the same time. This is usually followed by the plants slowly dying once they have seeded. So you can see that with the lengthy flowering and seed production cycle, and potential death of the plants, it is not easy for anyone to do research into individual bamboo species seed production unless carried out through generations!

Bamboo Seed Collection

When they are ripe, seed will usually drop from the bamboo.

You really want to make sure you don't lose the precious seeds and collect them before they disappear.

Bamboo seed are also prone to being eaten by birds and other wildlife if you don't collect them first.

My Seeds

Surprisingly, I have one bamboo that has produced some seed. Unfortunately I haven't managed to identify the exact species yet and it has now died back quite a bit making identification even more difficult. My plant is a small division of an open ground bamboo that was dug with a small amount of rhizome and transplanted into my garden several years ago. There was nobody to identify the species at the time and I haven't found a description to match it anywhere so far.

It was in good health up until it flowered. Nevertheless, I have managed to collect some seeds. I only managed to find a maximum of 3 seeds in each head from my plant, most contained just one seed, and some were completely empty, but I also found a few on the ground.

The (Raceme) or bamboo seed head on the right shows the bulge of a seed to be harvested
Bamboo Seed Heads (Raceme)

Dying Culms and Harvesting Seed Heads

As mentioned above, whole species have been known to produce flowers and seeds gregariously. What exactly induces mass flowering is unknown and unfortunately it is not easy to research due to the length of time between flowerings.

Empty Old Bamboo Seed Head
Empty Old Bamboo Seed Head (Raceme)

The culms can die following seed production, and sometimes the whole plant. It has been suggested that culms appearing to be dying can be cut prior to the seeds ripening, and the cut culms stored for a period of time in order to let the seeds ripen and be collected. If you put cut culms with seed heads in storage for a short while until they are fully ripe, wrap them in some light coloured cloth to catch any seeds that fall.

However, be aware that cutting culms down is not only a way of harvesting bamboo but also one method of weakening or killing the plant and therefore, in my opinion, it is an action that should be approached with caution.

The image here shows a seed head after the birds, or other wildlife, have eaten them. It's completely empty and dry.

In the case of my plant that has produced seeds; the culms tended to die off at the top but most of them were still alive at the bottom. Instead of cutting the culms down that didn't appear to be completely dead, I just took the branches that included the seed head, and put those in a cool dry place to ripen and prevent wildlife from taking them.

Seed out of its husk casing.
A Bamboo Seed and Empty Seed Husk

Another idea would be to wrap the culm with seed heads in a bit of muslin to let them ripen on the plant while the muslin catches the seeds and prevents wildlife from getting at them. Obviously this couldn't be done on a commercial level but if you only have one, or a few plants to do it is perfectly feasible.

Once the natural seeding process had finished I could see which culms did not completely die. I then trimmed off the dead parts from the top of the culms and it is now producing new leaves and branches from the bottom part that is still alive. In that case, I am glad I did not cut the culms down to harvest the seeds.

Although the plant is quite weak at the moment it does look like it will recover, even though full recovery to its former health may take a few years so only time will tell.

Single Bamboo Seed

My Terminology Note

I am using my own terminology in various places in this content and using words such as 'husks' and 'seed heads', whether these are correct or not I don't know but if/when I find the correct terminology I'll update the text and descriptions.

Bamboo Glossary and Terminology