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Lucky Bamboo Becomes Trendy in U.S.

By CADONNA M. PEYTON .c The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Some believe it will make them wealthy. Others hope it will improve their love life.

In Asia, ``lucky bamboo'' is a symbol of good luck, thought to bring success in business, positive energy and a long and healthy life.

The ornamental plant is now catching on around the United States, from Los Angeles and Chicago to New York and the sidewalks of Savannah, Ga.

Its popularity with people of all races has made it another mainstream byproduct of the nation's growing Asian-American population, which nearly doubled during the past 10 years to at least 10.2 million.

Lucky bamboo has long been sold by Asian gardeners and nursery owners in Southern California. But it has become trendy recently in the United States because it is used in feng shui, the increasingly popular Chinese art of arranging one's living spaces to enhance positive energy.

Sold in 6-inch stalks, lucky bamboo sends out slender green shoots when placed in water like a cut flower.

Jeremy Cornell, 32, said his girlfriend, who works at a Los Angeles-area flower shop, bought him some lucky bamboo as a gift. ``I like what it stands for - harmony and prosperity,'' the high school teacher said. ``It gives me a positive outlook on life.''

Recently, though, the charmed plant ran into some bad luck.

Shipments of lucky bamboo have brought another Asian import, tiger mosquitoes, to Southern California. In Asia the insects have been known to carry viruses that cause serious infections.

No cases of disease transmitted by the mosquitos have been documented in the United States. And so far, the insects have been found only in maritime shipments to Los Angeles.

Lucky bamboo is also shipped to San Francisco, Seattle, New York and New Jersey. To increase volume and reduce costs, distributors began shipping by sea rather than air within the last 18 months. But switching to sea deliveries meant the plant must be stored in about 2 inches of water for about two weeks in cargo containers. And mosquitos hatch in the water.

As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local pest-control agencies have started using pesticides to treat all lucky bamboo shipments arriving in Los Angeles County.

Import restrictions are possible if the mosquitos cannot be controlled, according to the county Health Services Department.

While no specific import data is available for lucky bamboo, the total value of all plants imported to Los Angeles from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong increased from $14,589 in 1997 to $602,818 last year. Already this year, the value is nearly $448,000, according to the Customs Service. In New York City, on a flower-lined block of 28th Street, wholesalers sell lucky bamboo stalks for $5 to $20 each. Their source, flower importer Prasert Thongpan, said he receives shipments of 25,000 stalks twice a week and plans to increase that number.

In Chicago, the Fertile Delta has been stocking lucky bamboo since the start of the year. ``It's not only sold in the flower shops. Everyone is carrying them. We can't keep enough in stock,'' store manager Arlene Mecko said.

Lucky bamboo, or dracaena sanderiana, is not actually part of the bamboo family but merely resembles the fast-growing plant.

Tony Yung, a Los Angeles plant importer, said the only luck the plant has is in its ability to grow under virtually any circumstances- ``They never die.''

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