The 3 Native Bamboo Species of North America

The 3 Native Bamboo Species of North America

The majority of bamboo species originate in Southeast Asia and you can find a few scattered species in Africa and the beech forests in South America. 

However, bamboo is very popular in many places all over the United States. So you wonder – is there any bamboo native to North America? The answer is – YES. There are 3 native running bamboo species native to territories in the US. 

All 3 of the native species belong to genus Arundinaria and are commonly known as canes, more specifically – hill cane, river cane, and switch cane.

  • Arundinaria appalachiana – Hill cane
  • Arundinaria giganteaRiver cane
  • Arundinaria tectaSwitch cane

Canes are a running variety of bamboo and they are quite woody. Typically they grow from 1.6 to 26.2 ft (0.5 to 8m) tall.

Usually, they reproduce vegetatively through rhizomes, however, they do produce seeds (rarely, not every year) in a process that`s known as gregarious flowering and results in all plants of the species dying afterward. 

Where does Arundinaria grow

Arundinaria is the only bamboo native to North America. More specifically, the genus is native to the south-central and southeastern United States from Maryland south to Florida and west to the southern Ohio Valley and Texas. 

A. gigantea (river cane) mainly grows in stream valleys and ravines throughout the southeastern US. 

A. tecta (switch cane) is found on the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains. 

A. appalachiana (hill cane) is found in more upland areas at the southern end of the Appalachian mountains as it can be guessed by its Latin name.

Canebrake

A canebrake or canebreak is a thicket of any Arundinaria bamboo. Canebrakes used to be widespread in the Southern United States but have now been widely replaced by agriculture. 

Canes can grow barely noticeable in the shade of a forest for years while reproducing underground rhizomes and rapidly take advantage of blowdowns, floods or hurricanes, and occupy the space affected by those events.

In the past, canebrakes used to grow in huge areas of hundreds of thousands of hectares at the time before early explorers came to the continent. Since then, the canebrakes have declined by 98% due to clearing, farming, and fire suppression.

Use

Canes used to be incredibly important to Native Americans before European colonization. They were used to make structures, arrow shafts, weapons, fishing equipment, jewelry, baskets, musical instruments, furniture, boats, pipe stems, medicines, as well as food.

The soil in canebrakes was rich and locals used to grow food there as well as hunt animals who lived in them.

Nowadays native bamboo can be used as a privacy screen or windbreak and can help your yard to look better by hiding ugly fences. You can also dry the canes and use them as plant supports and build garden trellises, or do all sorts of fun DIY projects. 

Native bamboo often grows where grass doesn’t so it can help you slow down water and prevent erosion on your land if you have issues with that. 

Environment

Cane thickets make great wildlife cover. Countless species of animals, insects, and birds rely on the canebrakes for food and place to live and reproduce. 

Native bamboo also helps build and prevent the loss of topsoil along the river’s edge. Having bamboo grow along embankments and floodways improves water quality by controlling erosion, especially during flooding.

Grow native bamboo 

If you want to grow native bamboo or canes there are some things to take into consideration. 

First of all, remember that all 3 of the native species are running bamboo and can spread far and wide if you don`t take proper measures to contain them.

It is wise to make sure you try to not plant where they could wander into a neighboring property, install rhizome barriers and mow 5 feet around the patch where your running bamboo grows. An alternative to installing bamboo barriers is planting along natural barriers like concrete driveways, roadways, rocky embankments. 

Native bamboos are heat- and cold-tolerant. They prefer rich, consistently moist, slightly acidic soils with a pH of 6-6.5. 

The biggest problem you might face is the fact that the native species are scarcely available in bamboo nurseries. 

While it can be tempting to just dig bamboo from its natural environment, keep in mind that removing plants from public lands is often illegal without a permit. So it’s better to make the effort of sourcing your plants from a reputable nursery or alternatively from private growers like yourself. 

Featured image: River cane( Arundinaria gigantea) by Melissa McMasters, CC BY 2.0