‘Lucky bam­boo’ may be lucky, but it’s not bam­boo


The New Year is still young so let's con­tinue to wel­come it in — with some lucky bam­boo.

At this time of year, this plant ap­pears in su­per­mar­kets and plant stores across the coun­try. It may or may not be lucky, but bam­boo it ain't.

Lucky bam­boo does look a lot like bam­boo. The jointed stalks are typ­i­cally one-half to three-quarters of an inch across, with a tuft of strappy leaves sprout­ing ei­ther from their tops or from the side of one of their up­per joints. Some­times the leaves have yel­low stripes, and on some plants the stalks spi­ral around rather than con­tin­u­ing straight up.

Stalks are some­times of­fered loose, but the plant sit­ting on my desk is a dec­o­ra­tive ar­range­ment of three stalks, one about 6 inches high and the other two each about 4 inches high, bound to­gether with a gold rib­bon and planted in an Asian-style pot.

Ac­cord­ing to feng shui, that an­cient art of har­mo­niz­ing our sur­round­ings, my lit­tle plant­ing is a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on the en­ergy around it, and the three­stalk ar­range­ment at­tracts hap­pi­ness.

With such sup­posed pow­ers, lucky bam­boo is a plant well worth car­ing for. For­tu­nately, it's very easy to grow.

Light? No prob­lem. Lucky bam­boo will sur­vive quite hap­pily in rel­a­tively low light. Too much is more likely to do it harm, re­sult­ing in wa­ter-soaked splotches on the leaves.

Fer­til­izer? No prob­lem. Lucky bam­boo can go for a long time with lit­tle or no fer­til­izer. As with light, too much is more likely to cause prob­lems than too lit­tle, with scorched leaves pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence of fer­til­izer burn.

Wa­ter­ing is a lit­tle trick­ier, but only marginally so. Plants will sur­vive for long pe­ri­ods with the bot­toms of their stalks in plain wa­ter or sup­ported in peb­bles and wa­ter. The wa­ter should be changed pe­ri­od­i­cally, once or twice a week.

Lucky bam­boo is sen­si­tive to chlo­rine and flu­o­ride, so rain­wa­ter or well wa­ter would be best, or at least tap wa­ter that has sat out for a few hours. A plant grow­ing in soil needs to be wa­tered pretty much like any other house­plant.

That's what lucky bam­boo is — one of a common species of house­plant known as dra­caena, corn plant or dum­b­cane. The name "dum­b­cane" comes from what hap­pens to your mouth, be­cause of ox­alate crys­tals, if you bite into this plant, so don't.

Dra­caena or lucky bam­boo is not even dis­tantly re­lated to bam­boo.

Left to its own de­vices, a dra­caena plant can grow 6 feet high, or more, but the large plants no longer have that in­ti­mate charm common to Asian gar­dens and plants. Re­cap­ture that charm by merely lop­ping the plant back to its charm­ing height. New leaves will sprout from one of the joints near your cut. (You can't do this for­ever; the plant will keep grow­ing back to its charm­ing height, but along the way the stem will grow un­charm­ingly fat.) If you want to make the grow­ing stem curl around in a spi­ral, ar­range it to see light from only one di­rec­tion, to­ward which it will grow, and then ro­tate it as needed.

If you prune the plant, don't throw away the pieces of stem you cut off. They can be used to make new plants by merely im­mers­ing their bases in wa­ter or pot­ting soil. Group the stalks to­gether as you wish: three stalks for hap­pi­ness, five for wealth, seven for health, or 21 for a pow­er­ful all-pur­pose bless­ing.

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