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“Once-in-a-Hundred Year” Sightings of Bamboo Blossoms Reported in Japan (grapee.jp)
359 points by vectorbunny 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

> Perhaps even more surprising than the long intervals at which they flower is the fact that all plants of the same stock of bamboo will bloom at the same time, and then die, no matter where they are in the world.

> Although the mechanism has yet to be explained by science, many believe there is some kind of natural “alarm clock” in the plant’s cells causing the behavior.

That is amazing. I'm having a hard time imagining how that could even be possible, for DNA to have an "absolute" sense of time. Some kind of day/night/time of year "counting" mechanism?

There are some other examples like that in biology, my favourite being 13- and 17-year periodic cicadas [1] with one theory being that a prime number was selected for during evolution to make it more difficult to synchronize with predator life cycles.

Counters in biology are also a thing, for example Hayflick limit [2] which is a number of times a single cell can divide before it dies (partially explained by telomere shortening due to particularities of replication of the lagging DNA strand 3). What is interesting here is that plants from the same clone grown in different climates likely grow at different rates so the counter must be decoupled from cell division. Perhaps accumulation of some metabolite that adds up every season triggers it at some threshold?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodical_cicadas [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayflick_limit [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere#Shortening

I thought that circadas thing was made up for the series Silicon Valley:


Coming from NJ I can safely say cicadeads are not made up.

I promise I am not trying to be an asshole here - is there some joke I'm missing about both of your spelling of cicadas?

In southeastern seaboard US states, some folks called them cicadas, some called them katydids, and some got the syllables confused and said things like katydeads or similar. Some people claimed the name depended on where you’re from.

But they’re not the same:


I had thought Cicadiads are the waves of cicadas. Turns out people say brood.

I imagine its just that cicadas - when they finally show up by the millions - also die by the millions, and leave little crunchy carcasses EVERYWHERE.

I also have been wondering whether I am out of the loop on some joke...

Even if it were made up, that bit of lore has been around much longer than the show.

Life was loud and very buggy in 2004 when Brood X emerged on the east coast US.

In undergrad I made models of oscillator genes. They allow for digital cycle counting. They can also be chained to give base-2 counting systems. For example, cycle of gene A turns on gene B be turns off itself, one cycle of gene B turns on gene C, turns on gene A and turns off itself, etc. This would give you a binary counter. Assuming they all oscillate the same frequency, you would get something like:


| Cycle | A | B | C | D |


| 1 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 |


| 2 | 0 | 1 | 0 | 0 |


| 3 | 1 | 0 | 1 | 0 |


| 4 | 1 | 1 | 1 | 0 |


| 5 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 1 |


And then if gene D triggers flowering: Tada! you would get one flowering every 5 cycles. In practice things are never this simple. The gene expression rules are not that straightforward, the genes do not all express in the same cycles, you need some mechanism to keep things in sync between cells and plants etc. But the simplified model shows how powerful oscillator genes with expression switches can be.


Super interesting, thanks for that. I guess a synchronization mechanism could just be the cycle of sunlight.. I'm amazed though.

The sun is a great sync signal for diurnal cycles. And something about temp could be used for annual cycles. I would be very interested to know if you cloned a cicada (for example) and put it out in the wild, would it be able to get in sync with the wild ones or wound the clones clock stay out of phase?

Is there any particular reason you link to Wikiwand instead of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscillating_gene ? The content appears to be the same.

No. I think the wikiwand site looks nicer so my browser is set to auto redirect. For me, that's just how wikipedia looks now, so I forget that posting those links will look weird and sometime dodgy to other people.

I recently learned about beech masting in NZ, which has a similar (but much more frequent) blooming cycle based on the difference between successive summer temperatures: https://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/publications/newsletters/...

"According to their ‘delta T’ (ΔT) model, the likelihood of masts by several species, including beech and tussocks, is positively correlated with the difference between average summer temperatures in successive years: a high positive value of ΔT (i.e. last summer warmer than the preceding summer) corresponds to a high likelihood of a mast in the coming year."

I'd always imagined that these types of events involved pheromone-type signaling, but this is kind of a cool way to do distributed consensus based on external signaling.

I saw an interesting Ted talk a few years ago about quorum sensing in bacteria.

Here's my recollection:

Essentially a single bacteria can't make you sick, and if it tried, it's so small that it would have no effect. Triggering a collective effect becomes critical for them to cause disease. Disrupting quorum sensing might be a way to fight otherwise resistant bacteria.

I don't know the exact mechanism (it sounds like nobody does) but remember these are clonally propagated (until they flower, which I presume creates seeds). So most of the entire population is actually one genetic "individual". So the 'alarm clock' must be tied to the original genetic signature.

No, there's no reason to believe they are only one genetic individual. Just because many are clones, there's no reason to believe they all are clones from the same original plant.

"all plants of the same stock of bamboo" makes it sound like this would indeed be from the same original plant.

I'm no expert here, but that does seem to be a logical interpretation of what was written.

OTOH, the author seems distinctly... less scientifically inclined than the bulk of commenters here. They may have simply meant "of the same genus".

Is it also for bamboos of different ages, like if I planted a bamboo yesterday, and today was when they all bloomed, would that bloom? The article mentioned an owner planting one in 2008 and it blooming now? So, that would mean the natural clock isn't about how old they get, but for a certain date-time or period or some weather conditions perhaps?

But is that bamboo you're planting really a different age? Bamboo reproduces clonally, right? So isn't that bamboo you're planting really part of an older stock? So its clock started ticking when its ancestor clone first began growing.

> if I planted a bamboo yesterday, and today was when they all bloomed, would that bloom?

In principle Yes but is an extreme example. Is possible also that the plant just will die before if roots are damaged in the process and their reserves are depleted.

There are a few videos out there claiming that the decline in use of Bamboo in construction/'woodworking' in Japan was not only about availability of other materials like steel and later plastic.

There was/were some species of bamboo used by craftsman that bloomed and then failed to reproduce due to weather changes. You've been working with a species of bamboo for five generations and it's just completely gone in under a year.

It could be that they all bloom when they receive a certain signal from another plant of the same species, and that they will set off that signal after storing up for 130 years after the last bloom. So even new plants will receive the signal and bloom, but the trigger takes 130 years to re-arm.

That sounds most plausible. After they bloom and all die, the first generation of new plants to grow will then start the 130 year clock again (by counting days or seasons) and be the first to release the signal again.

I wonder if they could adapt to a longer or shorter year cycle. Expose seeds to conditions simulating say 20 year cycles or "summer" "spring" "fall" and "winter", only slightly compressed so they are passing by over 15 calendar years. Perhaps you will have a batch of bamboo flowering 5 years earlier than their kin in the wild?

As another user mentioned, oscillating loops can achieve these phenomenon and they're extremely abundant in biology. The circadian rhythm is an excellent example of this behavior.



It's interesting the article says: ... even if there are no exogenous cues present, periodical patterns are still shown (1) indicating that these rhythms result from an internal time-keeping system. ... For humans, the most prominent circadian rhythm is the 24 h rhythm in the sleep-wake cycle.

I thought it's a well-studied fact that humans settle on a 30 hours sleep-wake cycle in constant light conditions?

No, it's somewhat longer, but much less dramatic at around 25 hours: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/074873040301800...

However, your confusion is understandable.

Nathaniel Kleitman spent a month in a cave in 1938 studying sleep/wake cycles, and found that he could maintain a 28 hour cycle. He did this deliberately, however, and this does not reflect the circadian rhythm. Rather, this wake/sleep cycle depends on C (the circadian rhythm) and S, homeostatic effects that reflect the previous period of wakefullness. It's also entirely possible to sleep at any point in the circadian rhythm (as anyone who has napped will know), so the circadian rhythm can simply decouple in extreme wake/sleep cycles (e.g. 20h or 28h).


Also, even with the circadian rhythm not being preciesly 24 hours, it's still 24 hours with entertainment. That's the standard physiological condition; it really is a 24-hour cycle. Free-running is like removing a component of the clock, seeing that it doesn't keep 24-hour time, and calling it broken. That's not the case; entrainment is part of the process and how the body keeps coordinated with its environment.


Plants depend crucially on timekeeping.

The Circadian Clock is essential for coordinating metabolism, growth, and reproduction, vernalization, etc. Most plants can be considered either short-day or long-day flowering, where highly-sensitive response to the delta in day-length is tracked to coordinate flowering. Nearly all plants anticipate events like sun-rise and sun-set with precision to coordinate (expensive!) photosynthetic expression, open/close stomata, alter xylem and phloem, etc.

Applying this to longer time-scales should not be terribly surprising for such sophisticated time-keepers.

Here's some information about in-vitro induction of flowering, induced with the sorts of chemicals you might expect (e.g. cytokinin promoting, auxin repressing):


As for the particular regulatory network that accomplishes this, it's very difficult to study an event that occurs so seldom. Even annual breeding cycles can make detailed genetic investigations take decades.

What we can infer from homology is that there's likely some kind of feedback and balance of hormones that 'count' the time. There is nothing "in the DNA" that tracks time, but the genes that DNA encodes can provide this clock function.

What does "same stock" mean in this case?

Same stock typically means same root stock, which is how people propagate and bamboo naturally clones itself.

Same clone.

Maybe they're not sensing absolute time, but sensing bloom events from other plants? Some mechanism akin to quantum entanglement perhaps?


Doesn't have to be counting up. Counting down would be much easier.

Counting up and counting down are the same thing, if 0 and 1 are arbitrarily assigned.

Help me understand. Here is what I am thinking:

If I have a cell with 5 "beans" (hypothetical counting organelle) in it. And the cell will die if it does not have at least one bean. These beans stack on top of each other like Legos, and "float" inside the cell so that the top bean is at the surface of the cell, exposed to the weather. Every winter the exposed bean dies, so that each year there is one less bean - and the next highest bean is now "floating" at the top. After 5 years there will be no beans left and the cell will die.

Now try to do that by counting up. How does it work?

Ooh, I thought your post was a response to the binary-counting one but it's a sibling to yours—my comment was referencing that. In a binary-based arithmetic system of fixed number of bits, counting up from 000 to 111 is isomorphic with counting from 111 down to 000 if you flip all the bits.

Bamboo blossom is a super interesting botanical fact, and a regular front-pager on Reddits "Today I learned"

> For example, devastating consequences occur when the Melocanna bambusoides population flowers and fruits once every 30–35 years[6] around the Bay of Bengal. The death of the bamboo plants following their fruiting means the local people lose their building material, and the large increase in bamboo fruit leads to a rapid increase in rodent populations. As the number of rodents increases, they consume all available food, including grain fields and stored food, sometimes leading to famine.[7] These rats can also carry dangerous diseases, such as typhus, typhoid, and bubonic plague, which can reach epidemic proportions as the rodents increase in number.


Possibly one of the best Nova titles ever - "Rat Attack" follows this phenomenon: https://www.pbs.org/video/nova-rat-attack/

Video not available in my area! But why!? Have the rights expired for US viewers??


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This appears to be a mirror image version (literally) of it:


It is right under the video:

Aired: 02/24/09 - Expired: 12/15/15

Very interesting, loaded it up through my Toronto VPN and was rejected too.

Related (and mentioned in See Also section of above Wikipedia page):


Causes famine. The Northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur are somewhat near the Bay of Bengal.

> And if you feel discouraged by the notion that they are bad omens, why not consider the silver lining: While it's true that the flowers signal the death of the plant, they also symbolize new beginnings, since those who rely on supercentenarian species like madake can eventually expect a fresh, healthy and abundant supply of new shoots which will last for a very long time.

This would fit very well with the notion that starting a new era also means a new start. (It might make people a little eager to overreport I suspect.)

(Before Meiji era, Japanese emperors used to routinely proclaim new eras when some notable event happened or they just felt change was needed. Common reasons are big earthquakes and other natural desasters, for example, but there also eras that were started over the sighting of a white or red bird or the find of a gold mining spot (it actually turned out not to be). (The mean era length is something like 5 years.))

Now we have HBO doing that job for us. We just ended the Game of Thrones era, to be replaced by the Westworld era soon.

Bamboo species are amazing. I grow Bambusa oldhamii - useful for food (shoots) and timber. It's a clumping variety, so quite easy to control, and tolerant (if not particularly happy) of dry, wet, heat, and cold.

But my clones are taken from a variety that flowered in the 90's, IIRC, so there's some confidence they won't all flower (and immediately die) for another ~70 years.

The variety they're talking about here is a mild running type (most runners are very rampant, and not recommended unless you've got containment systems in place).

Thailand famously had a big flowering event in the late 1980's that killed off vast tracts of plantations.

I wish my bamboo (inherited from a previous owner) would flower instead of battling me for control of my yard. I really need to read up on the best way to control it - sounds like my variety might be a "runner".

I think the way to control running bamboo is with a deep solid fence/wall dug into a trench. I am led to understand that there is a depth that a particular specie will not run below.

I may be wrong. The previous owner of my neighbor's house had a bamboo garden... the current owner was not aware of how to maintain it. The previous owner of my house had a rose garden. I am not a particularly clever gardener, and having grown up in Minnesota, was not familiar with the habits of bamboo. The bamboo ran under the fence, and attacked the roses in our yard before I noticed it. The bamboo identified rose bush root clumps, attacked, surrounded, and choked them.

So in the aftermath, I ripped out dead roses and built a play structure for my offspring, my neighbor ripped out the bamboo jungle and created a nice patio, so we both netted out OK. Our research led us to determine that a trenched solid barrier should have been put in place originally, but we weren't going to test the theory.

Sounds like it. I avoid runners, as the risk is just too high to recover them if they get away. Also in Australia most boo suppliers eschew running varieties, as suburbian horror stories abound.

As noted by dbcurtis, you need to have a physical barrier -- either metal (but that'll eventually corrode) or some very thick rubber (ditto), or concrete - to about 60cm depth, depending on variety. Alternatively they are typically stopped by roads and permanently running creek beds.

My clumpers (Bambusa oldhamii, B.multiplex, B. ventricosa, and B. gracilis) vary in height, but after 15 years the largest is, albeit a very dense, 1.5m diameter clump.

It reminds me of cicadas, an insect with long life cycles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada#Life_cycle

> Some cicada species have much longer life cycles, such as the North American genus, Magicicada, which has a number of distinct "broods" that go through either a 17-year or, in some parts of the region, a 13-year life cycle. The long life cycles may have developed as a response to predators, such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis. A specialist predator with a shorter life cycle of at least two years could not reliably prey upon the cicadas.

There's also an evolutionary theory behind why these are prime numbers: https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/the-cica...

I wonder how long the seeds will take to germinate. I have some seeds of a hardier and more common bamboo Chusquea culeou, which have been stratified in a variety of ways and put in moist soil for over half a year now - none have germinated yet. After getting worried, I've done some research and it turns out that many types of bamboo can spend years dormant in the ground, before suddenly shooting up and growing at incredible speeds.

I've germinated a few seeds (P. edulis 'Moso' & Fargesia Jiuzhaigou IV 'Black Cherry') purchased on AliExpress (very inexpensive). I planted about 200 seeds in July of last year and achieved a germination rate of about 5%. My understanding is that bamboo seeds are not viable for very long, but it could also be that I didn't get my seeds from a very reputable dealer.

Wow, today I am one of the lucky ten thousand. This is a beautiful bit of the natural world I had no idea about.

It's wonderful to learn of something so 'purely' interesting, and (now I've dived a little down the rabbit hole) shared amongst other species like Cicada.

At the end of the 90ies, most specimen of Fargesia blossomed and died in Europe. One big contributor was, that basically they were descendant of very few, if not a single plant brought to Europe around the year 1900. With a more "natural" population, the blossoms shouldn't be that much of a big hit. I am also surprised that Phyllostachys is said to die - all literature I knew claimed that the death after blossom is limited to Fargesia.

> Perhaps even more surprising than the long intervals at which they flower is the fact that all plants of the same stock of bamboo will bloom at the same time, and then die, [...]


I thought bamboo is a fast growing thing, and it's easy to grow bamboo. Just stick it into the soil in the right conditions and it'll sprout roots and grow. (It can even be grown from seeds.)

Growing and flowering are two different things.

As the article mentions, some types of bamboo will flower only once every 100 odd years. When they do, they pollenate each-other and grow fruits and die.

In some parts of the world rats will feasts on these fruits, and rodent populations will explode, contributing to the "Bad Omen".

> Just stick it into the soil in the right conditions

When all the bamboo decides to flower and die at the same time, what exactly are you planning to stick in the ground?

> When all the bamboo decides to flower and die at the same time, what exactly are you planning to stick in the ground?

Presumably, the seeds from the fruits from the last generation. Though they would certainly take a bit of time.

From what I can gather, it appears that a large amount of industry in Japan relies (or did at some time) on the long flowering cycle causing continual growth of the bamboo stalks, only further complicated by the cloning process that likely cuts from the same plants.

> When all the bamboo decides to flower and die at the same time, what exactly are you planning to stick in the ground?

The seeds from the flowers?

> When all the bamboo decides to flower and die at the same time, what exactly are you planning to stick in the ground?

Hm, maybe keep saplings inside when you see the flowers growing?

Or try to cut off the flowers to prevent the die-off?

Okay, maybe that's a lot of work, and no one prepared for that?

I am growing bamboo for quite a while, and at least for the kinds which survive in European climate, you cannot cause a cut off part to sprout roots. But as bamboo is spreading via the roots, you can just cut off parts and replant it.

Long back I read that Bamboo blossoms are often accompanied by famines due to rise in rat population.

Interesting, it seems we are in the midst of famine conditions if it doesn't stop raining on the USA and droughting in Australia. It seems every part of the planet right now is having trouble with it's food supply.

One theory I was researching was the grand solar minimum.

In the past maybe. Now cats, dogs and foxes population just would explode.

In the 21 century finding some glass jars or metallic recipients with a solid cover lid shouldn't be a great problem. If you can find a beer or a cocacola in your village you have yet a rat-proof recipient for safely storing seeds. Rodents are edible also if not other food is available

Is also interesting to notice that this bamboo ecology fact, seen as a symbol of bad luck, gave us an unexpected and priceless gift: chicken eggs. Domestic hens are able to lay 12 months a year because red jungle fowl and bamboo forests are linked and evolved to get advantage of years of bamboo flowering

IIRC the rodent populations can reproduce much faster than their predators and completely overwhelm them. Worse, once the fruits are gone the rodents start to eat everything in sight until they starve en-masse and leave the ground covered in dead rats.

Unless you are highly adept at making rat jerky you are going to be in trouble when winter comes.

> In the past maybe. Now cats, dogs and foxes population just would explode.

Why would the response of cats, dogs, and foxes be different now than in the past?

There is a hypothesis in ecology named "the mesopredator release". It states that when big predators are hunted until extinction, small and mid sized predator populations increase dramatically.

That site benefited enormously from reader mode.

> The rest of the article can be viewed on our partner’s website, grape Japan at ”Once-In-A-Hundred Year” Sightings of Bamboo Blossoms Reported In Japan“ (https://grapee.jp/en/114838)

Why don't link the complete article instead of the japan-forward one?


Is this really helpful or intellectually stimulating? I urge you to check the rules before catching a shadow ban, my friend.

New Reiwa era, bad bamboo omen. OK

Glitch in the matrix. Someone left original CSS href in all copies of bamboos.

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