Dracaena sanderiana, commonly called 'lucky bamboo' was long ago thought to be a 'true' bamboo but has been shown to be as a different family of canelike grasses. Lucky bamboo is becoming more and more a part of American 'pop culture' and is one of the newer trends to sweep the workplace. It seems well on its way to replacing betta vases as the newest 'in' thing.
Lucky bamboo is thought to bring prosperity and wealth to the person who keeps it. The fact the plant is amazingly simple to maintain encourages this, since it gives people a boost of superstitious hope. It's said to influence money, career advancement, and success in business ventures. They"re a popular gift for co-workers, bosses and underlings, friends, and are becoming more popular as wedding favors.
The plant is considered lucky because it is thought to be very beneficial for feng shui. It is considered a strong wood element (similar to earth in the non-eastern four-element system). Wood elements influence growth, vitality, fortune, and life energy. Because it is capable of thriving in poor conditions where most plants would fail, it is thought to bring that positive energy to otherwise still and energy-dormant parts of the house or office, increasing the overall good energy flow. Multi-stalk arrangements are often tied with gold ribbons for general success, or with red for financial thriving.
The number of stalks is said to affect the feng shui as well:
- Three for happiness
- Five for the aspects of wealth
- Six sounds like the word for 'luck' in Chinese
- Seven for good health
- Eight sounds like the word for thrive
- Ten stands for completion or perfection
- twenty one (as a multiple of 3 and 7) are said to be a very powerful all-purpose blessing
When you purchase lucky bamboo, it will usually be in a ceramic dish filled with rocks or a gel-like silicon-based substance usually called 'magic crystals'. I recommend replacing these crystals with small, unpainted aquarium rocks, a thin layer, then place the bamboo atop, then pack the remainder full. The gel is said to hold in water so you have to water the plant less frequently, but in general it's a substandard material. If the dish has rocks, it should be fine as-is. If you purchase bamboo by the stem not in a dish, it can be kept in anything waterproof filled with rocks, or a vase or fishbowl filled with just plain water. A bowl of water should be much deeper than one of rocks so the stems can lean against the rim.
Care is very easy for these plants. The stems of the plant you bought have been specially treated and will never grow any taller, but send off bright green healthy leaves off of the top. Eventually over months or years, they may thicken into new stalks themselves. When this happens, you can trim the new growth immediately below a joint and put it in rooting hormone to start a new plant. Lucky bamboo lives in nearly all light situations and is more likely to die from too much than too little. It will thrive on indirect sunlight on down to only artificial light. If your bamboo looks brown and burned, move it to a dimmer location. The only other thing this plant really needs is to be kept wet all the time. Make sure you water it regularly, as it is a rainforest plant by nature and needs a lot of moisture. You can add an all-purpose liquid fertilizer or a special bamboo fertilizer at watering if you desire, but it's not totally necessary. If the leaves yellow, add a fertilizer or use bottled or distilled water because your tap water could be poisoning it if it has a lot of chlorine or certain minerals. This is an indoor plant and will NOT thrive outside unless your temperature is always above 50-60 F and very, very moist. Unlike real bamboo, IF it lives outside, it will not create massive thickets and take over your neighborhood.
Most lucky bamboo you see is plain straight stems but occasionally (becoming more common are stems that curl in a spiral, a loop, wave about randomly, or most recently braids. These are usually much more costly as it takes several years to grow. Because it has a stiff stem, it can't be trained as many plants (like the ficus) so it must be grown in the dark and trained to respond to light. The stem is laid on a table and mostly fully covered, leaving only the parts the cultivator wishes to curl left open to grow towards the light. With enough time and rotation, the plant will adopt curls in its stiff stalk. A favorite prosperity charm is to put a curly stem that loops twice around two straight pieces so it resembles a dollar sign: $.
Lucky bamboo is a completely safe plant to keep around small children and house pets and there are no recorded instances of harm coming from its accidental consumption. It is also thought to be safe to keep in aquariums and terrariums and even in bowls with the betta as long as the fish is properly cared for and no fertilizer is added to the water although there are no really conclusive results on this yet.