Chusquea culeou is a perfect clump-forming bamboo. Photo by
Bamboos have been given a bad reputation over the years
because of the invasive nature of some of the species, but many
have a tight-clumping habit and deserve a place in our gardens.
With about 1400 species of bamboo in the world,
Chusquea species make up about 10 % of this total.
Chusquea predominantly come from the mountain ranges
of South America from Mexico to Argentina, Chile and across
Some are tropical but many are completely hardy, with
Chusquea culeou probably the hardiest and most
tolerant of different climates and soil conditions.
Chusquea culeou is a perfect clump-forming bamboo,
never sending out rhizome runners more than a few
It has the common name of foxtail bamboo because of the way
vegetation whorls in multiple branches around each node of
This feature, along with the fact the canes are solid, is
unique among the bamboos.
The canes emerge and grow upwards, arching at the top to form
a graceful fountain effect.
The Chusquea cane was used by the indigenous Mapuches
people to make musical instruments and to fend off the Incas
with lance-shaped canes.
They made such a successful weapon that when the Spaniards
tried to take over the Incas' land in the war of Arauco they
held them off for 300 years.
I want one
Seed is rarely available; plants of Chusquea culeou
are reported to flower only once in their lifetime and to
When this does happen, seed is easily collected and grows
quickly into reasonable plants.
Propagation is normally carried out by division, which is
easy when plants are small but can become difficult with
Division is normally done in September before the new canes
emerge but when the roots are active.
Each division needs to have a good proportion of
Two mature specimens of Chusquea culeou can be seen in
the South American Border in the upper botanic garden.
Dylan Norfield is the Geographic and Arboretum Collection
Curator at Dunedin Botanic Garden.