FunNature & AnimalWhat exactly is 'lucky bamboo'?

What exactly is 'lucky bamboo'?

For some time now, it has been easy to find the plant colloquially called ‘lucky bamboo’ or ‘Chinese bamboo’ , especially in bazaars or “everything for a hundred” style stores. It looks like a bamboo stick and some say it brings luck. That’s why they call it ‘lucky bamboo’. According to feng shui followers, it attracts wealth and prosperity and activates chi flows. In fact, in China it is a tradition to give this plant as a gift on Chinese New Year, or when someone opens a business or a new house.

Chinese bamboo that is neither bamboo nor Chinese

Leaving aside the superstitions about good fortune, aspects related to the flow of chi and other pseudoscientific paraphernalia, the truth is that the “Chinese bamboo” is not a real bamboo, nor does it come from China .

It is not a bamboo: its scientific name is Dracaena braunii , therefore it is a plant of the Dracaena genus . The same genus to which the Canary dragon tree belongs. Their lineage, that of the Asparagales, separated from the Poales group, to which bamboo belongs, more than 120 million years ago. The similarity between the two species is due to an evolutionary convergence.

Its origin is not Chinese either: Dracaena braunii is distributed in Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo . Although today, thanks to the widespread cultivation in the Asian continent and its massive transport and sale, it can be found in stores practically all over the world.

The biology of Dracaena braunii

Chinese bamboo is sold with its roots submerged in a container of water, a form of cultivation called hydroponics . In this state, and as long as the water is changed regularly, it can survive for a long time, although it will grow very slowly and with difficulty. It is a good system for storing plants and transporting them, but not so much for growing them. The water must be poor in salts, and without chlorine.

However, it can also be planted in soil . In this case, it must have good drainage and the soil must be moist but not waterlogged. This way the plant will grow much faster. It can be planted both in a pot and in the ground. For proper growth it requires to be in a well-lit area but without direct sunlight, although it resists low lighting well. In fact, it is a fairly resistant plant.

It has also been proven that Dracaena braunii has a certain bioremedial capacity : through its roots and leaves it absorbs contaminants present in the air, especially certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene. The plant usually has an associated microbiota, including bacteria of the genera Pantoea and Staphylococcus , capable of protecting the plant from stress due to the presence of benzene.

A vector of invasive species

To our knowledge, Dracaena braunii is not an invasive species, nor is it expected to be. But it’s not harmless either.

Since its cultivation and transport is always carried out with a small amount of water, it is not uncommon for something more than a ‘lucky bamboo’ to travel in the container. It has been proven that the transport and trade of Dracaena braunii has been a significant vector in the introduction and subsequent invasion of the tiger mosquito ( Aedes albopictus ) in Europe.

A study carried out by Professor Adolfo Ibáñez-Justicia, from the Vector Monitoring Center of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, and based on samples collected from 2010 and 2016, showed that the introduction of mosquito tiger through the plants occurred in all the years studied.


Ibáñez-Justicia, A. et al. 2020. Risk-Based and Adaptive Invasive Mosquito Surveillance at Lucky Bamboo and Used Tire Importers in the Netherlands. Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, 36(2), 89-98. DOI: 10.2987/20-6914.1

Jindachot, W. et al. 2018. Effect of Individual/Co-culture of Native Phyllosphere Organisms to Enhance Dracaena sanderiana for Benzene Phytoremediation.

Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, 229(3), 80. DOI: 10.1007/s11270-018-3735-z Kew Science. 2021. Dracaena braunii Engl. Plants of the World Online.

Tang, C. Q. et al. 2016. Global monocot diversification: geography explains variation in species richness better than environment or biology. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. DOI: 10.1111/boj.12497

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