Tag Archives: Phyllostachys edulis

The bamboo harvest

Watching Meng gather bamboo shoots and strip them down on site, amongst our giant bamboo was an illuminating cultural experience at home.

We have dabbled with gathering them in the past, making the assumption – based on more common vegetables – that the younger, smaller shoots would be the most desirable and tender to eat, rejecting anything over 30cm. We carefully dug the shoots out and brought them up to the house to prepare.

Just the lattice tip is prepared for eating 

The husk was stripped off in situ and left to break down

Meng is a local resident now, but from north eastern China. She grew up harvesting bamboo shoots and she was not here to muck around. She rejected my small tender shoots – “too small” and selected only larger ones, most of which she kicked over with her boots. I tried kicking over with my gardening shoes and it is harder than it looks but Meng made light work of it. The tallest shoots she was harvesting were up to maybe a metre and she sliced off the top 30cm with a very sharp, heavy knife. She then stripped down the shoots, cutting off the hard, outer husks with a confident display of knife-work that would match any chef, leaving the offcuts to rot down in the bamboo grove. She was only after the tips where the inner lattice-work has developed. That, I assume, is why she rejected my small shoots – because the proportion of lattice at the tip is too small.

Meng brings these tips to the boil and leaves them steeping in the water overnight. Then she leaves them to dry and will either freeze them, dehydrate them or, I assume, use them fresh. Her partner tells me they are going to try pickling some too, which sounded interesting.

The steeping in water is important. In the past I have followed internet instructions and brought them to the boil in at least two changes of water which presumably achieves the same end. Raw bamboo shoots are bitter and contain some level of cyanide.

It is time I gathered my paltry few and prepared them for future use. Meng’s harvest is much larger than we require for our needs. I feel that serving up a meal of homemade tofu from homegrown soy beans with fresh bamboo shoots may be a pinnacle of virtue signalling. I admit that I do not find bamboo shoots particularly exciting as a taste treat but they add variety and texture.

Mostly, I was entranced by the sight of Meng in our bamboo grove carrying out an efficient harvest.



But where are the panda bears?

Our stands of giant bamboo are a never-ending source of disappointment to us. That is because they are enduring proof that the cargo cult does not work. The cargo cult is that school of thought that says “build it and they will come”. We often see it espoused in this tourist backwater where we live. Build a café/gondola/light rail/cruise ship terminal/tourist hub (strike out any which do not apply) and visitors will arrive. Well no panda bears have arrived here, is all I can say. I even checked that they eat Phyllostachys edulis – it is not their favourite bamboo but they will eat it.

We have one stand of giant bamboo confined on a small island in the stream where it cannot leap for freedom. The other is on a boundary and each spring we have to dig out the new shoots which pop up across the boundary fence. They grow extremely rapidly and would colonise the neighbour’s paddock if left to their own devices. This is Phyllostachys edulis and the second word is a clue – it is edible for humans as well as panda bears. There are many edible bamboo varieties – 110 out of 1575 known species. Apparently.

I tried blanching and freezing a few shoots last spring time and they stored well. Bamboo shoots are not exactly full of rich flavours and are more of a subtle and textural addition to stir-fries. My home prepared version is easily equal to tinned bamboo shoots, maybe superior because I keep them slightly crisper. This spring I am preparing more because I can see they would be a pleasant addition to salads and platters as well.

Top photo – prepared shoots waiting to be blanched. Bottom right, a bucket load of fresh shoots only yielded enough for 14 meals. Bottom left – the shoot is sliced lengthwise and then peeled.

Mark brought in bucket of young shoots and it yielded 14 packages for freezing – each being more or less equivalent to a standard sized can. They are easy to prepare. I slice vertically and then peel off the outer layers until just the lattice centre remains. At this stage, as Mark said, they rather resemble a pagoda in form. I slice them into centimetre thick lengths.

The pagoda look of a fresh bamboo shoot

I checked the internet for recipes. Bamboo shoots can be bitter and are not palatable fresh and raw. But I covered them with cold water and added a tablespoon of sugar, bringing them to the boil and simmering them for about eight minutes. I then discarded that water and covered them with fresh, cold water and a couple of teaspoons of salt. They were then brought back to the boil for another couple of minutes, then cooled and packed in meal-sized quantities, adding a little of the cooking brine. They are in the freezer. That is all it took. The bamboo season is but brief and we are eating freshly freshly blanched baby shoots this evening with dinner.

Bamboo scaffolding on a Hong Kong street

Each time we transit Hong Kong, we pause in awe to admire the bamboo scaffolding that often encases high rise buildings. It seems unlikely that Health and Safety inspectors in the western world would ever accept the use of bamboo scaffolding but it has a proven track record and would be a great deal lighter and easy to assemble and move than the heavy pipe scaffolding used in this country.

Tikorangi Notes: Sunday October 9, 2016

 I vowed I would complete The Mission of the 78 Azaleas in July.  I am almost there, which is to say I am down to the last two plants needing a home. The trouble with being down to the last two, is that they suddenly take on psychological significance. There are no more sitting in the nursery to draw on so I must make sure that these last two are in The Right Place. I don’t want to suddenly find a spot which I missed that is calling out for a bright spot of colour. It may take a little longer.

img_2427In the meantime, it is The Challenge of the Lytocaryum weddellianum. This is a very pretty little, feathery palm from Brazil, a close relative of the coconut palm but small. It is sometimes referred to as the wedding palm (presumably because it is favoured in pots as green decoration at wedding receptions?). There are a reasonable number of them sitting out in the nursery that Mark bought as baby plants years ago. It is doing particularly well in the subtropical gardens beneath the rimu trees.

Lytocaryum weddellianum is a bit of an in-house (or in-garden) gag here. Others often give the advice to repeat a plant in a garden to give unity. I have always doubted this because too often it is done with common plants like renga renga lilies (arthropodium) or the tractor seat ligularia (L. reniformis).  I once saw it done with Dahlia ‘Bonne Esperance’ and I came to the conclusion that all that repetition does is to ensure that your garden all looks the same. Nevertheless, I am threading the lytocaryum through one area on the grounds that if you are going to repeat a plant to gain unity, you might as well do it with class and botanical depth.

img_2406We have a relatively large forest of a giant bamboo – in this case Phyllostachys edulis. The neighbour wishes it was not on the boundary and we are trying to be vigilant this spring and doing a weekly round of jumping the fence to grub out the new shoots that insist on popping up in the farm next door. It is a handsome bamboo and of some use as cut lengths in the garden. It is also edible. Sadly, panda bears have not arrived to take advantage of the food source (further proof that the cargo cult does not work) but I am having another go at cooking the fresh shoots this year. To be honest, the bamboo shoots that you buy in tins taste more of the brine than anything else. And even fresh, they are more textural and a carrier of other flavours (as tofu is) than a taste treat in their own right. But they add variety to our diet and I can see a use for them in stirfries. “Please bring me some bamboo shoots for dinner,” I asked the other night. And he did. The big one is past cooking stage. The trick seems to be to harvest them just as they come through the ground and to prepare the white sections that are below the surface.  I shall slice some, blanch them quickly in boiling water and then freeze them to see if we use them later in the year. The first batch I poached gently in stock before adding to the dinner that night and they were pleasant, if not life-changing.

img_2420The deciduous magnolia season is over, bar Magnolia Serene which is always the last to bloom and is still a picture. So I can now admit that 2016 was not a memorable year. The rain, rain and yet more incessant rain combined with mild temperatures turned many to slush – botrytis, Mark says, on a scale we have not seen before. I really struggled to get good photos. There is always next year when the weather gods may be kinder.

img_2392Now it is bluebell time. It appears that ours are all Spanish bluebells or hybrids. The pink and white variants are a bit of a giveaway. Ken Thompson in The Sceptical Gardener gave me a handy guide to tell the difference between the blue ones – which are English, Spanish or hybrids. I stopped by the site of one of the original houses in Tikorangi where bluebells continue to flower. Mark thought that they are probably the oldest bluebells in Tikorangi so may date back to the early settlers and therefore more likely to be the English bluebell. Nope. Indubitably of Spanish origin too.

But Spanish or English or a mix of the two, a carpet of bluebells is a pretty sight and leads in to a poem written by a friend who stayed with us last week.

img_2377Bluebell Woods

Red Riding Hood haunts the Bluebell Woods

plucking her squelchy bouquet.

Nasturtiums Humpty down the bank

trumpeting and capering on their way.

Celandine tells of golden cups

quaffed by golden kings


But the scarlet poppies alone in the field

have only songs of war to sing.

J F Panting


Bamboo but where are the panda bears?

Phyllostachys edulis but, alas, no panda bears

Phyllostachys edulis but, alas, no panda bears

We have the odd stand of bamboo around the place. This giant form is Phyllostachys edulis.


There are no fewer than 42 different species that giant pandas eat. Mark told me that P. edulis is one of them so I briefly entertained the cargo cult dream – grow the food and wait for them to arrive – but sadly that seems unlikely. A net search does not highlight P. edulis as one of the pandas’ preferred species so maybe that is the problem? We have
tried harvesting the young shoots to eat and they were fine, if n???????????????????????????????ot sufficiently inspiring to ensure that they became a dietary staple. It is, however, a useful source of very long and remarkably stable poles. One is a prop for the washing line. Mark uses it to build shelter frames for his bananas and even to make super long handles for the rake he uses to clean out our ponds. Inspired by our awe of bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong, seen on high-rise buildings, he threatens to construct our own scaffolding but I think it is all talk.
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I photographed this bamboo screen in a Herne Bay garden during the recent Heroic Gardens Festival. It was a lovely small town garden which successfully utilised pretty much every bit of available space to integrate the indoors and outdoors as living space. I really liked the informality of the screen, with the varied lengths of bamboo rather than forcing them into uniformity and the natural weathering process. Mark was particularly taken by the close-up photo showing how the lengths were held in place. Cable ties – a wonderfully simple idea.
??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Also seen at Heroic was this crafted bamboo gate in a Mount Eden garden, which was beautifully executed and appropriate to the restrained, immaculately maintained sub-tropical back garden. This is located in the heart of a densely populated urban area but the garden gives no hint of that. The gate has clearly been coated, presumably both to prolong its life but also to stop the weathering process and preserve the smart, new appearance. Sealing the bamboo will also stop the growth of lichens.


???????????????????????????????At the other end of the sophistication scale, I photographed these two bamboo gates in an Okato garden last spring. These have been added on to existing gate frames in a garden where many different bamboos are grown, and then left to weather over many years. You can see the high humidity environment and clean atmosphere in our coastal Taranaki that encourages such abundant lichen growth. As long as the bamboo is kept off the ground, it can last a surprisingly long time.

The best bamboo collection we know is at Paloma, Clive and Nicki Higgie’s garden at Fordell, near Whanganui. Bamboo enthusiasts will find much of interest there. But no panda bears, alas.

Paloma Garden

Paloma Garden