Visitors to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport this holiday season may notice a few new additions to the planting beds around the atrium garden — bamboo.
While the tropical-looking plants may remind visitors of exotic locales, these particular bamboo plantings were selected for their cold tolerance and to teach travelers two important lessons about bamboo: it will grow pretty much anywhere and the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm played an important role in bringing the plant to North America.
The gardens, a University of Georgia Extension facility, donated the new bamboo stands to replace the airport’s previous bamboo collection, which was damaged during a record-breaking cold snap in January 2014.
The old bamboo stands were comprised of Oldham’s timber bamboo, or Bambusa oldhamii. The cold snap — during which temperatures dipped as low as 18 degrees in Savannah and didn’t climb much above freezing for two days — left that bamboo looking ragged to say the least, noted Norman Winter, director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm.
“The atrium has been known for its beautiful bamboo, but the Bambusa oldhamii did not tolerate the extreme cold,” Winter said. “The unusually cold temperatures last January opened up the opportunity for a unique partnership between the airport commission and the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens.”
The airport’s horticulture coordinator, Jamie Burghardt, worked with the airport to plant nine new beds of bamboo that should weather future cold snaps and acclimate to the stress of growing in such a public area.
The Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens are home to one of the largest collections of bamboo in the Southeast, with 70 different varieties/taxa. Most were introduced to the property during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) owned the land and researchers used it as a testing ground for potentially profitable bamboo varieties.
Burghardt chose bamboo that either had a historical significance in Savannah from the USDA era or that had an extraordinary track record of performance or beauty at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens.
At the airport, each bamboo specimen is accompanied by a display providing information about the bamboo variety, the bamboo’s history in Savannah and the history of the botanical garden.
“This will be a great opportunity to not only show off the beauty of bamboo, but also to direct visitors to the garden to see the other species as well as the new developments,” Winter said.
In the decades since the first bamboo groves were established on the 51 acres in southwest Chatham County, the gardens have become a place where tourists and locals alike enjoy the outdoors throughout all seasons. In addition to pick-your-own berry fields, holiday light displays, gardening classes, diverse and expanding plant collections and, of course, bamboo, the garden offers event venues for meetings, weddings and parties.
For more information about the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, visit www.coastalgeorgiabg.org. For more information about cold-tolerant bamboo in your landscape, see Extension Bulletin 1357: "Growing Bamboo in Georgia."