Beautiful Bountiful Bamboo

grens and yellows are the main colors of the bamboo that towers above Vaucluse House

The colourful bamboo abundant at Vaucluse House. Photo Cameron Allan © Sydney Living Museums

One of the most recognisable plants growing at Sydney Living Museums today is bamboo. This colourful plant has a long history in colonial gardens.

Bambusa balcooa is a large-growing species of clumping bamboo originating in India. It was first introduced to the colony by Governor Phillip in 1788. He hoped it would thrive in the favourable warm climate with year-round exposure to the sun.

Bambusa balcooa is also a strong building material. It was often used to make chairs, fans, and woven mats in the Victorian period. Bamboo fences can be seen surrounding many of the gardens at both Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Farm. In fact, some original plantings of Bambusa balcooa still survive in these colonial gardens.

The large clump of bamboo towers into the sky at Vaucluse house

The giant Bambusa balcooa in the Vaucluse beach paddock.

Photo Cameron Allan © Sydney Living Musuems

Vaucluse House is one of Sydney’s few 19th century homes still surrounded by its gardens and grounds. One of the great pleasures of visiting the estate is strolling through the winding paths of the pleasure garden. A number of Wentworth plantings still survive including the giant clump of Bambusa balcooa in the beach paddock 1

the bamboo at Elizabeth which has a timber seat in the foreground and a gravel drive sweeping off towards the house.

Bambusa balcooa in the garden at Elizabeth Farm.

Photo James Horan © Sydney Living Museums

Bambusa balcooa is also present at Elizabeth Farm. One of the earliest surviving homesteads in Australia, the property originally spanned 1000 acres of pastoral land. In the early 1980s, the Historic Houses Trust restored the garden surrounding the house. The garden includes a towering Bambusa balcooa found to the east of the carriageway.

One of the noticeable features of Bambusa balcooa is its height. The culms (stem) can be up to 20m tall with thick and sturdy walls. The leaves are often narrow and on average 15cm-30cm long. A light brown sheath protects each culm and is covered in microscopic brown hairs, hiding a beautiful bright yellow and green stem underneath. It likes water and is often planted next to a creek, channel or pond. In very dry conditions it may shed all its leaves due to water-stress.

looking up from the ground you can see the large bamboo clums at Vaucluse House on the Beach paddock

The culms of Bambusa balcooa can be up to 20m long.

Photo Cameron Allan © Sydney Living Museums

Sydney Living Museums also grows other varieties of bamboo that were present in colonial gardens. These include Bambusa multiplex and Phyllostachys aurea from China. We also grow multiple types of Arundinaria.

Thus, bamboo was a noticeable feature-plant of many colonial gardens in Sydney. It is a great example of the connections between the colony and Asia in the 19th century. Thankfully, many plantings still survive in the gardens at Sydney Living Museums.


About the author

Cameron Allan, A Visitor Interpretation Officer at Sydney Living Museums in his uniform which is a white business shirt and he is in front of a book display at the Vaucluse House Shop

Cameron Allan

Visitor & Interpretation Officer

Cameron is a Visitor & Interpretation Officer at Sydney Living Museums.