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The good, the bad and the bamboo

The good, the bad and the bamboo

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A bamboo shoot in a Galloway Township yard. A growing number of South Jersey homeowners are bedeviled by bamboo, a fast-growing nuisance plant that encroaches on, and often damages, neighboring properties.

Many towns, counties and states have already taken on the bamboo discussion; eventually all will need to address the subject.

First, let me say that I am a big fan of commercial, engineered bamboo products. Having been in the kitchen and bath business for 45 years, I chose to build my own kitchen cabinetry out of an assortment of precision manufactured bamboo veneers and solid stock that had become available in the industry. Likewise, I have a couple of flooring areas and a beautiful, tough set of stairs made of incredibly strong “strand” bamboo; the fibers of the plant that are mashed together in a non-toxic binder under tremendous mechanical pressure. Various bowls, cutting boards, utensils, and decorative items round out the kitchen scene. Bamboo can be used for fabrics, other building materials, many grades of paper and much more.

Note that I have used the words commercially available, manufactured and industrial. So, I admire the product that has been produced for industrial purposes on a plantation; not ordered in online or grown around here to be planted all over our landscapes. Why? Well, that shifts the whole conversation.

There are over 1,000 different species of bamboo of the “running” and “clumping” types. Running varieties can send their root systems, or rhizomes, up to 20 feet or more per year in a season while clumping bamboo will plod along at about an inch or so per year.

Running bamboo rhizomes actually have a moisture emitting sharp tip that softens and penetrates as they go underground. They don’t know about property lines and have no problem finding the tiniest cracks, crevices, pathways, soil types or non-soil explorations. Bamboo exhibits some tree-like qualities, but it is actually a giant grass and also one of the world’s most invasive plants. So, if you want perpetual maintenance of unknown dimensions or chances of success, potential legal and social problems with neighbors in all directions (liens, lawsuits, etc.), then bamboo is perfect for you. Oh, and don’t forget to sink sheet metal, rubber membrane or other non-degradable material 30 inches down into the ground and 6 feet above to try, with no guarantees, to contain bamboo rhizomes from leaving your property.

Municipalities and state governments should have the public good in mind to ban new plantings of bamboo moving forward upon ordinance passage. Existing plantings must be contained if possible, but property owners still bear the cost of removal or possible legal ramifications from nearby property owners. The State of Delaware has already put restrictions in place on bamboo and quite a few other nuisance plants; other states should as well.

So, it seems that fishing poles, stakes and poles, privacy screens and windbreaks, and the eating of bamboo shoots are the compelling local reasons for not banning bamboo. Well yes, bamboo works for all of that; but those things do not tip the scales toward practicality in our ecosystem. For privacy and windbreaks, consider emerald arborvitae, leyland cypress or some decorative screening. Better yet, plant some Eastern Red Cedar or Eastern White Pine with a decorative understory of native bushes, warm season grasses or other perennial plants.

One of the other concerns is biodiversity. Bamboo hosts no beneficial insects and does not provide any pollinator services. Like thousands of other invasive, non-native species; bamboo was brought here from somewhere with a different local ecosystem. Yes, you may be able to eat parts of many invasive plants, please have at it, it will be a long time before there will be a shortage of mugwort and autumn olive around here. Biodiversity depends on each organism pulling its weight in circular interdependence. With bamboo it’s just not worth it.

If there were ever a business enterprise geared toward controlled bamboo growth for commercial and industrial purposes, then we can talk some more. There are local growers, but they are tuned into a false premise that bamboo belongs in our landscapes.

Please support your local town to ban the sale and new in-ground plantings of bamboo, at least an ordinance that includes strict containment measures. If there can be a provision for some approved containerized clumping bamboo, that might fly in an ordinance. I would recommend working nicely with your neighbors to monitor and remediate existing running bamboo; because you will need a wheelbarrow full of goodwill.

Go Green Galloway is a volunteer organization dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of Galloway through the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation, environmental education and the implementation of sustainable practices. We always welcome new volunteer members. Contact us at or call Mary at 609-742-7076. Also be sure to like our Facebook page.

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