Chinese bamboo water plants, often called lucky bamboo, are common gifts for certain occasions, such as the opening of a new business, both in China and in the west. Lucky bamboo is popular in the United States, Canada and many parts of Europe. With segmented stems and leaf-producing nodes between the segments, the plant looks much like bamboo. As with many gifts given in Chinese culture, the gift of Chinese bamboo water plants carries symbolic significance. Lucky bamboo is very easy to care for and can survive in conditions that would kill many other plants. It is propagated by removing and re-planting the side-growth that occasionally forms on the plants.
A Chinese bamboo water plant technically is not a bamboo plant. It is a form of water lily. A true bamboo plant will not grow in water and is not a water plant. Although considered a water lily, the Chinese bamboo water plant is a form of the houseplant Dracaena. Dracaena is native to Africa and Southeast Asia.
There are two forms that Chinese bamboo water plants can take for commercial sale. One is straight lucky bamboo. It is long and looks very much like a bamboo plant. The second type is curly bamboo. Curly lucky bamboo and straight bamboo are the same type of plant. Growers make the curly bamboo by limiting light to one side of the plant. The lucky bamboo grows toward the light. As it grows, the nursery where the lucky bamboo is being created for commercial sale rotates the plant to encourage the curly growth.
Lucky bamboo grows best in shade. In fact, it can grow well in low indoor light levels. Some people successfully keep this plant in a windowless bathroom using only artificial bathroom light. Although considered a form of water lily, Chinese bamboo water plants also can grow well in soil as long as the soil is kept moist to the touch. If growing the plant in water, change the water every 2 to 3 weeks. Use the same amount of water that was in the container in which you bought your lucky bamboo. According to the University of Illinois, the plant can live as long as a year in plain water. However, adding a droplet of liquid fertilizer to the water every two to four weeks can help increase leaf growth and health and extend the life of the plant.
Lucky bamboo can reach 2 to 3 feet tall. The stems aren't strong enough to grow longer than about 3 feet. Chinese bamboo water plants sold in stores have had their growth nodes removed and will not grow taller. The growth node is the node on the top of the plant from which new growth emerges. Removing the nodes prevents further lengthening of the stalks. Fertilization will only increase the size and number of leaves. Common sizes in stores can range from a few inches tall to about 2.5 feet.
Lucky bamboo is often given as a housewarming gift or gift on the occasion of the opening of a new business. It is given with the intent of bringing luck and prosperity to the recipient. The number of stalks is also significant in Chinese culture. Three stalks symbolize happiness, wealth and longevity. Five stalks attract wealth. Six stalks bring prosperity and favorable conditions. Seven stalks bring health. Eight stalks perpetuate growth and prosperity. Twenty-one stalks bring general blessings.