Bamboo: Decorative But Destructive. By Janine Disanti and John Daub

Bamboo: Decorative or Destructive?

 

by John Daub

Bamboo can be found in many yards and gardens, acting as a decoration to make everything around it have a bit more exotic flair. People find bamboo to be aesthetically pleasing, but it is this attraction that shields the reality of the situation from the minds of those that plant it. The truth of the matter is that bamboo does not belong here in the United States, and as much as people would like to convince themselves otherwise, planting it in one’s backyard poses risks. Bamboo is an invasive species in this country, brought over from its native lands of China around 1882 with the hopes of adding decoration to people’s homes in the U.S. Invasive species pose a major ecological risk, growing uncontrolled in non-natural environments and outcompeting native species.

When planted in one’s own backyard, bamboo can grow as fast as one hundred centimeters per hour, growing out of control in a matter of weeks. Bamboo spreads clonally through rhizomes that spread underneath the ground’s surface, allowing for bamboo to spread despite how much cutting is done to try and prevent it. As the bamboo spreads, less and less grass, flowers, or any other native species of plants can grow in the area that is rapidly taken over, posing a headache for gardeners and a horrific situation for ecologists and environmental control agencies. For those that do not have the time to cull back the growth of bamboo, their gardens are lost before their eyes.

Though the planting of bamboo in the United States is not recommended, methods to control bamboo do exist for those who insist to use it as a decorative item for their yards. The continuous cutting of bamboo down to its roots will help the problem, but it is inefficient as the bamboo can survive and continue to grow if it is not constantly cut before it is allowed to produce leaves. This type of care requires a lot of attention that some might not be willing to give. One of the most efficient ways to control the spread of bamboo is by installing a tough plastic barrier about thirty inches deep around the bamboo to prevent the spread of the rhizomes. This will effectively limit the bamboo growth to a set area and will save gardens from rampant, uncontrolled growth.

Thoughts on the Invasiveness of Bamboo –Janine Disanti

Invasive species cause many problems to native communities and pose a threat to healthy, functioning ecosystems. Whenever a species is introduced outside of its native range, it can take over because of the absence of its natural predators which function to keep the species in check. By crowding out native species, invasive species lower the habitat value for native species of vertebrates and invertebrates which rely on the native plants for food and shelter. As an invasive species spreads and chokes out other native plant life, genetic diversity and therefore habitat functionality decreases. It is important to keep invasive species from spreading unchecked for the sake of animals, the environment, stopping the spread of diseases, pollination, genetic diversity, and saving the food supply produced by farmlands.

Bamboo spreads through underground runners called rhizomes instead of making seed, allowing it to take over a relatively large area of land in a short period of time. Its stalks also grow incredibly quickly and densely which creates shade that prevents any other native seedlings from getting sunlight on the forest floor. For this reason, a significant reduction in the population size of native species in the community is noted when bamboo is present. Management of bamboo causes major investment when it is allowed to spread uncontrolled. The common treatment plan for removal includes the “cut stump” method, where the stalk is cut and herbicide is applied. Several treatments over a couple years are required before the species can be controlled. Bamboo is also known to attract insects such as mosquitoes, which lay their eggs in the water which collects inside the stalks. By controlling the spread of bamboo, the diseases that are spread by these insects can also be controlled.

Although bamboo is a very interesting and beautiful plant, homeowners should take precautions when planting it in their own yards in order to preserve the functionality of our native habitats. One of the most effective ways to control bamboo from spreading is to install a tough plastic barrier about 30 inches deep to prevent the bamboo rhizomes from spreading. The soil next to the barrier should be tightly compacted so that the bamboo rhizome isn’t encouraged to grow deeper. Bamboo typically grows in the top couple inches of soil if it is loose, but when a bamboo root hits an obstruction it can respond by growing downward an underneath of the barrier. Also, if someone desires to plant a small amount of bamboo as an accent plant in their yard without it spreading, it can be contained in a pot which will be buried underground. The bottom of the pot should be cut out except for a one inch lip so that a circular screen can be placed in the bottom and will stay in place. Coarse screens, such as window screens, are best and two layers should be put in the bottom of the pot. By controlling the spread of bamboo, we can become one step closer to restoring local habitats to healthy and functioning ecosystems.

Bamboo as an Invasive Species

Summary (John Daub)

Bamboo is a plant native to China that was brought to the United States due to its unique and exotic look. Many use bamboo in a decorative and ornamental fashion, often planting it in their own yards. However, the aesthetic appeal of bamboo masks the fact that the plant is indeed an invasive species in our country, and as with any invasive species, brings consequences that must be dealt with. Once established in the environment, bamboo has ecological impacts that can easily result in overgrowth that is difficult to control, pushing native plants out of their natural environment. People who plant bamboo are often unaware of the methods used to control its spread, such as the installment of physical barriers to stop the spread of the bamboo’s rhizomes and tedious cutting of the stalks year after year.

The Issue

Bamboo growing patterns (Janine Disanti)

There are over 70 species of bamboo divided into approximately 1,450 species. Therefore, bamboo can grow in a wide variety of climates from cold mountains to hot jungles. Bamboo originated in China, but can now be found all over Asia and India, in Australia, Africa, and the Americas (Wikipedia). Bamboo prefers loose, loamy soil and usually their rhizomes are within the top few inches of soil. It can also vary in height from about 1 foot to over 100 feet (ABS). It is considered a grass (family Poaceae) and all bamboo are perennial evergreens. They have a hollow stem and don’t undergo secondary growth, causing them to be the same width from base to top. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth, and can grow as much as 100 cm in a 24-hour period (Wiki). The species of bamboo Phyllostachys nuda found in Rutgers Gardens produces culms each season that grow to 30 feet or more in just weeks (Rutgers).

Most species of bamboo don’t make seed very often, typically only one every 65-120 years (Wikipedia). The majority of bamboo culms that are seen in a spread are actually all from one genetic lineage. Bamboo spreads underground through rhizomes which connect one plant to another, where they can share water and nutrients from one stalk to the other. There are two types of bamboo plants: runners and clumpers. The running types, like the ones at Rutgers Gardens, send out underground runners which come from the parent plant. Clumping species spread much more slowly and don’t expand more than a few inches a year. Clumpers are more frequently found in tropical regions while runners do best in temperate climates (ABS).

References: “Bamboo.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 08 June 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo>. “Bamboo Forest.” Rutgers Gardens. Web. 08 June 2011. <http://rutgersgardens.rutgers.edu/>. “General Bamboo Information.” American Bamboo Society – Official Website – ABS – BAMBOO – Bamboo.org. Web. 06 June 2011. <http://www.bamboo.org/index.php>.

Methods for controlling bamboo (Janine Disanti)

Since bamboo spreads clonally through rhizomes underground and has a very rapid growth rate, actions must be taken to keep it under control. One of the most common and effective methods involves installing a tough plastic barrier about 30 inches deep to prevent the bamboo rhizomes from spreading. The soil next to the barrier should be tightly compacted so that the bamboo rhizome isn’t encouraged to grow deeper. Bamboo typically grows in the top couple inches of soil if it is loose, but when a bamboo root hits an obstruction it can respond by growing downward an underneath of the barrier (ABS).

Another solution which isn’t as effective, but can be if maintained properly, is to make a mini moat around the area where the bamboo is growing. Making a shallow trench about 10-12 inches deep in the soil around the bamboo will allow you to see if any rhizomes are trying to cross the gap, at which point they can be cut off. This method requires more frequent checking of the trench for rhizomes, but is cheaper than a plastic barrier.

Bamboo doesn’t work well with herbicides since the rhizome underground will still be alive, but another method to get rid of unwanted bamboo is to cut the shoots (culms) to the ground. Water and fertilize them so they will grow back, and when they do cut them again before they can make leaves for photosynthesis. This way, the plant will be using a lot of its energy to make shoots, but will not be able to perform photosynthesis and receive energy. This will cause the plant to eventually be exhausted to death, it wont be able to send up new shoots, and the rhizomes will rot underground. If someone desires to plant a small amount of bamboo as an accent plant in their yard without it spreading, it can be contained in a pot which will be buried underground. The bottom of the pot should be cut out except for a one inch lip so that a circular screen can be placed in the bottom and will stay in place. Coarse screens, such as window screens, are best and two layers should be put in the bottom of the pot.

Some people control the spread of their bamboo plants by eating the shoots it produces. The shoots of most species are edible raw and all are edible cooked. This is only effective if the plants are harvested every year, triggering them to grow new shoots. Another affective way to control the spread of bamboo is through natural borders such as any body of water or a maintained landscape, such as a mowed lawn or plowed field. These types of disruptions don’t allow the bamboo shoots to spread through creating a natural barrier which they can’t cross.

Reference: Jaquith, Ned. “Planting and Care of Bamboo.” American Bamboo Society – Official Website – ABS – BAMBOO – Bamboo.org. Web. 06 June 2011. http://www.bamboo.org/index.php>

 

Problems caused by invasive species such as bamboo (Janine Disanti)

The most common characteristics used to assess the invasiveness of a plant are its ecological impact, biological characteristic and dispersal ability, ecological amplitude and distribution, and difficulty of control (NYIS). In general, invasive species are detrimental to native species since they can often outcompete them when introduced out of their native range. This is because the natural biocontrol agents that normally keep their spread in check (for example a type of insect which completes its life cycle on the plant) are not present. By crowding out native species, invasive species lower the habitat value for native species of vertebrates and invertebrates which rely on the native plants for food and shelter. As an invasive species spreads and chokes out other native plant life, genetic diversity and therefore habitat functionality decreases. It is important to keep invasive species from spreading unchecked for the sake of animals, the environment, stopping the spread of diseases, pollination, genetic diversity, and saving the food supply produced by farmlands.

According to the New York Non-Native Plant Invasiveness Ranking Form, the species of bamboo at Rutgers Gardens Phyllostachys nuda has received a “moderate” invasiveness rank. It was noted that bamboo influences ecosystem processes to a minor degree, for example it sucks great amounts of nutrients from the soil which are consequently unable to be used by native plants. It also creates shade which prevents any other native seedlings from getting sunlight on the forest floor. Bamboo is considered to have a significant affect on natural community structure since it eliminates the herbaceous layer of the forest through shading. There is a significant reduction in the population size of native species in the community when bamboo is present, especially because of how densely it grows (NYIS).

There is a high chance of the spread of bamboo by indirect human actions, such as commercial sales. Since Phyllostachys nuda is one of the hardiest species of bamboo and isn’t very costly, it is commonly bought by people to plant in their yards (NYIS). Also, bamboo could be spread through the transfer of soil with bamboo rhizomes still present within. Since bamboo has generalist habitat requirements, such as the ability to grow on nutrient poor soils, it often wins when competing again native plants. Its fast grow also allows it to grow up before other plants and shade them out. In New Jersey, it has the ability to grow in large dense stands which allow little to no other native or invasive plants to grow there, destroying otherwise healthy habitats. Since the climate in its native range is very similar to that of the northeastern United States, it is able to flourish.

In every state in which it is present, management of bamboo causes major investment. The common treatment plan for removal includes the “cut stump” method, where the stalk is cut and herbicide is applied. Several treatments over a couple years are required before the species can be controlled.

Reference: “Phyllostachys (genus) Non-Native Plant Invasiveness Ranking Form.” NY Invasive Species Home. Web. 06 June 2011. http://nyis.info/Default.aspx>.

Problem- Insects (John Daub)

Bamboo can be the source of potential insect problems, whether it is bamboo that is growing in the United States already or bamboo that is being transported from Asia for decorative and industrial purposes. Bamboo being shipped across the sea can harbor invasive species of insects that can be damaging for the natural environments found in the United States. Once these species are released into the environment, it is hard to stop their spread, as they do not fit into a natural ecological niche here in the United States. Since the environment is not made to handle and naturally control the populations of invasive species, these invasive species of insects often push out and outcompete local species of insects and can often cause massive damage to native plant species that have no defense against an unfamiliar species from Asia.

Bamboo that grows in the United States can pose the problem of sheltering insects. Bamboo is a natural habitat for the invasive Asian Tiger Mosquito, as well as other native mosquito species. The Asian Tiger Mosquito often lay their eggs in small container environments, such as tires that have collected water, tree holes, and any other type of small container that might contain some water. Bamboo Shoots often have small openings at the top of the shoot that travel straight down into the inside of the stalk. These holes often collect water from rainfall and act as perfect container sites for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.

The problem with bamboo acting as a container site in which mosquitoes lay their eggs is that the bamboo acts as a type of protection for the development of the mosquito. The most common mosquito control mechanisms often include the broadcasting of pesticides across vast areas of land that have been deemed at risk for mosquitoes and their larvae. When the mosquitoes have flown down inside of the bamboo to lay their eggs, the broadcasted pesticides have difficulty reaching the inner breeding pools inside of the long bamboo shoots. This means that the pesticides’ effectiveness has been reduced by the protective outer layer of the bamboo. Instead of destroying the mosquitoes, the pesticides instead only add harmful chemicals into the environment with little effect in pest control. Other beneficial species of insects and plants are instead affected by the chemicals released more so than the mosquitoes.

Reference: “Larval Habitats of Mosquitoes.” Rutgers Center for Vector Biology. Web. 06 June 2011. <http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~insects/habitat.htm>.

Bamboo- History of Arrival (John Daub)

Bamboo is native to China and was first introduced to the United States around 1882. It had been cultivated in Japan for centuries. The reason Bamboo was brought to this country was for ornamental uses and because people found it to be aesthetically pleasing.

Reference: “Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual: Golden Bamboo.” Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council. Web. 15 June 2011. <http://www.se-eppc.org/manual/PHAU1.html>.

Distribution in the United States (John Daub)

According to the USDA Forest Service, Phyllostachys aurea, also known as Golden bamboo, has been found in the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Virginia, California, Oregon, and Maryland. It has been reported to be invasive in the states of Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The state of New Jersey is also at risk. As the Golden Bamboo species poses a threat of invasiveness in multiple states surrounding New Jersey, the bamboo will become an even greater threat as the species continues to adapt to the colder environmental factors. The climate of New Jersey is not much different from the climate in either Pennsylvania or Maryland.

Reference: “Golden Bamboo.” USDA Forest Service. Web. 15 June 2011. <http://na.fs.fed.us/fhp/invasive_plants/weeds/golden-bamboo.pdf>.

Golden bamboo is only one species of bamboo, as all are invasive in the United States. Other species grow better in the cold climate of New Jersey and pose an even greater risk. Phyllostachys nuda is one of the most difficult species of bamboo to control due to its hardy nature, growing in parts of the Southwest, Southeast, northwest, northeast, and deserts.

Reference: “All About Bamboo- Regional Recommendations.” Bamboo Sourcery. Web. 15 June 2011. http://bamboosourcery.com/cat_frame.cfm?id=48>.

Potential Solutions (John Daub)

• Raising Public Awareness: In order to combat the rampant spread of bamboo, people have to be made aware that the potential for such a problem does in fact exist. In order to do so, campaigns of some sort could provide the answer. Awareness amongst the general community must be raised to a level where people begin to view bamboo as a potential hazard for their house or for public parks, rather than viewing it as an ornament that in no way can harm the environment. Awareness groups could be one potential way to get the information to the people in a community.

Groups in the area could work to inform local residents, either by going from house to house in residential areas that exhibit a tendency to display bamboo as a decorative item in their yards, or by setting up large events. If awareness groups were to set up an event to help cull back the growth of bamboo in a public park or area, they could sell the event based on the idea that participants would be able to either take some bamboo shoots back with them to use for ornamental purposes, or by promising to teach people how to make a certain type of craft or project with the bamboo that has been cut back.

Local residents could also be informed by activist groups through a means such as flyer distribution in areas at risk to the spread of bamboo in the natural environment. Areas at risk would include rural and suburban areas more so than urban and heavily populated areas, as there would be less space for bamboo to spread in those areas. The main threat of bamboo would be its spread into a local forest from someone’s backyard. Single-flyer distribution would make sure that all residents of a community would be made aware of the problem, as long as everyone took the time to read what was on the information flyer distributed. In order to make certain of this, the flyer would have to be able to catch someone’s eye easily so that it was not immediately discarded.

Flyers could include information describing why bamboo is a problem and ways to control bamboo in residential areas. It would be wise to list the problems caused by bamboo based on how much of an effect it could potentially have on causing property damage in order to give residents a motivation for taking an interest. Control methods would have to be easy and cheap, so that residents would have some chance to actually perform the control. Cost or prolonged work would not appeal to residents and would make them less likely to help in controlling the invasive species.

• Legislation: Legislation would be a way to add potential money to fund control project for bamboo. If state funding could be diverted to programs that focused on controlling the spread of bamboo as an invasive species, the ability to take action would become much easier. Current legislation exists to deal with other potentially harmful invasive species, but little legislation exists currently to deal with bamboo specifically. In order to create more traction for the issue, groups might be recommended in order to have a focused effort writing legislators all at once to bring attention to the issue, in addition to calling legislators to express concerns and the potential problems associated with bamboo. More focus might be given to the problem if potential uses for the bamboo could be proposed, such as the use of the bamboo collected for building projects in public parks to create things such as bamboo bridges to look aesthetically pleasing. The difficulty in gaining legislative backing is that the legislatures must be convinced that the money used to fund a bamboo program would not be better used elsewhere, a monumental task in a time of financial unease.

• Building Projects: Bamboo is an important and sturdy building material for all sorts of products. This is what can separate bamboo from other invasive species, in that when bamboo is cut down and controlled, it can actually serve a use to people if used correctly. A volunteer group, or even a Boy scout or Girl scout troop, could find bamboo useful once it has been cut down. Below are some uses for bamboo:

1. Bridges: Bridges are a useful application for bamboo as they can serve a function of transportation over certain areas such as streams, small rivers, or muddy and uneven terrain. A few pieces of bamboo will support a great deal of weight and tend to last for long periods of time.

2. Fences: Fences are another useful application for bamboo. Bamboo fences can be used to keep people out of certain areas, such as keeping people from walking over grass in public parks. Bamboo fences are pleasing to the eye and may add more to the atmosphere in a public place. For instance, it may look better to surround a public tool shed or port-o-potty’s with bamboo fences rather than letting them remain as they are. The bamboo fences are strong and are generally safe, with none of the sharp metal edges that metal fences sometimes have. They could be preferable to surround dog play areas or children playgrounds.

3. Shelter: Bamboo houses or canopies can offer shelter from the rain if built effectively. Bamboo can also be fastened into tepees. Tepees can be used for shelter, but they are also occasionally used as a surface on which to grow other vegetation, such as hanging grape vines. Bamboo shoots can be used to build gazebos, which would benefit any public park and add to the ambience of any area.

4. Food: Bamboo is used to cook with in many Asian kitchens. It is a healthy food choice and can be used in numerous dishes when cut fresh.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for an informative article. I live in North Carolina, where bamboo from neighboring lots has gotten out of control. The bamboo has run across property lines and is in the woods behind my home. I am at wit’s end in knowing what to do. We have bulldozed our property but it returns with a vengeance. IS there a noxious weed law in North Carolina or do you know? How would I go about starting a bamboo eradication campaign? You cannot believe the horrendous numbers of mosquitoes that call the bamboo forest home. I cannot enjoy my backyard any longer. They are the Asian Tiger Mosquitoes 😦 Thanks.. you can email me if you have any ideas or thoughts on how I can spearhead eradication of the bamboo where I live. Lyn

    Reply

    • Posted by Dr. Julie M. Fagan on June 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Lyn:

      Thank you for your comment. There are several reasons why someone would deliberately plant bamboo. perhaps that were ignorant of how problematic it would be – where ever they got it from didn’t mention or know its properties, or the person who planted the bamboo had poor judgement and justified the enormous risk (almost unstopable spread and choking out native plants with the ability to effectively take out standing structures on people’s properties) outweighing the benefit (fast growing, extremely tall privacy barrier).

      Yes – as you described, the running bamboo is invasive and it is listed as such by the North Carolina Native Plant Society http://www.se-eppc.org/northcarolina/NCDOT_Invasive_Exotic_Plants.pdf

      A few localities have put in ordinances restricting bamboo
      http://electron.electronics.indiana.edu/foxd/bamboo/invasive__bamboo__laws.pptx_%20(1).pdf , including one proposed for Carolina beach. Connecticut recently passed a law regulating bamboo.
      http://valley.newhavenindependent.org/archives/entry/state_passes_seymour-born_law_regulating_bamboo

      What you could do: You mentioned about laws regarding its planting. Perhaps seek out the individuals responsible for the upcoming (hopefully) ordinance near you in Carolina beach. You could look up ordinances that other municipalities/states have put in place and send letters to your state legislators and local officers to enact legislation/an ordinance for your area. My thinking is that $100 fines to the grower won’t cut it – the existing bamboo grower should be required to pay for the abatement of bamboo that has spread onto other’s properties in addition to, of course, outlawing its planting.

      Check out what your local ordinances are – do you have any height restrictions on fences – as the bamboo would be considered a “living fence” as multifloral rose was, are there noxious weed or other laws in place or anything regarding plantings like trees that cause damage onto other’s properties in your county. You could investigate whether you could bring the bamboo grower to small claims court to pay for damages to remove his bamboo spread onto your property…I’m sure you’ve spoken to your neighbor – maybe you could ask him for his help – have him cut down the shoots and install the barrier (read up on the abatement’s: http://www.expertlaw.com/forums/showthread.php?t=62130, http://www.sacramentopress.com/headline/73070/Ask_the_Law_Librarian_Encroaching_Bamboo)- this would be preferable over going through the expense and nastiness of taking the issue to court.

      Community backing is essential. You could start up a group to get your community involved. What I did was to use the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat program to engage the residents. One of our goals was to replace invasive plants with native plantings. You could do the same – but then have as an example, the bamboo issue. I can certainly help you with writing up the NWF program – you need to gain points to register for it and then work on getting points to get the community certified. You will need to get a team together with perhaps you serving as the team leader.

      Julie (Fagan)
      Home (610) 847-2411
      drjuliefagan@yahoo.com

      Associate Professor, Rutgers University
      New Brunswick, NJ
      fagan@rci.rutgers.edu

      Reply

  2. Posted by Edith Cedotal on July 24, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    This gave me a lot of information. My not good neighbor planted bamboo two feet from my mobile home behind her fence. It leans on my house, fruit trees and property and now some have emerged in my yard. I tried telling her to control her bamboo but she says she does’t have the means to do so.
    Am I left to have to deal with this for the rest of my life? This is too difficult for me to keep up with. We are just older folks trying to live out lives simply. There should be something/someone in Louisiana that can help.

    Reply

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