by Ann Farnham
In May of 2016 a bill (A3735) was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly to establish requirements for the sale and planting of running bamboo in response to the pleas of a frustrated new homeowner who, after purchasing her property, discovered running bamboo invading hers from a neighboring property (see Making Bamboo Taboo).
The bill specifically pinpointed the genus Phyllostachys and a species, arundinaria. However, Phyllostachys is not the only invasive running bamboo that grows in New Jersey. There are other running bamboo genera; Pleioblastus, Sasa, Arundinaria, and Semiarundinaria, grow here, and some grow as far North as Boston, primarily along the coastal regions. There are three native North American species and more than 700 species world wide, most native to China, Japan, and Asia Minor. Bamboos are not all tropical nor confined to lower elevations.
The common names “Heavenly Bamboo”, “Lucky Bamboo” and “Japanese Bamboo” are not bamboos but unrelated genera.
Bamboo is a grass, but unlike most grasses we are familiar with, they have underground stems (rhizomes), from which new clumps (culms) arise. The rhizomes of running bamboos can range to 25 feet in length from a single culm in one single growing season and thus, before long, a significant number of plants emerge from them, sometimes intruding into unwelcome areas like neighbors’ lawns, driveways and flower beds. There are “clumping bamboo” genera which have rhizomes as well, but they do not have the invasive properties of the running bamboos.
Many bamboos, both clumpers and runners, make beautiful and graceful garden plants and thick privacy screens. They are usually low maintenance and care-free except for the rigid control that must be practiced to contain the runners’ rhizomes. They are available in many sizes, colors and shapes, striped and solid. Some are among the fastest growing plants in the world: up to 3’ in 24 hours, some to a height of 100 feet. Bamboos flower or set fruit infrequently; some species do so only after anywhere from 15 to 120 years, after which most die. Many are attractive in containers indoors, outdoors, or as bonsai. Insect and disease pests are not very prevalent.
Economically, bamboos are very important throughout the world, not as garden and home plants, but as food, textiles, art objects, paper, tools, fishing poles, furniture, and building materials, among others. Ecologically, bamboo is a workhorse, sequestering carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen prodigiously, and providing unique wildlife food and shelter. It is a vital food for Pandas, whose populations have been seriously affected when groves die after flowering; likewise, animals which proliferate eating the seeds, die when the grove stops producing.
There are beautiful clumping bamboos, such as Fargesia (Pandas’ favorite) and other clumpers, which are cold hardy and disciplined. They can serve as privacy screens as well as accent plants and focal points. Clumping bamboos, contrary to running bamboos, do not require 2-3’ plastic, concrete or metal buried barriers, or surrounding ditches which require seasonal cleaning out of new rhizomes, or frequent 15-20’ wide perimeter mowing.
Running Bamboo Negatives
Running bamboos deplete surrounding soil of nutrients, which prohibits complementary planting or a wildlife friendly understory. They require a lot of real estate, none of which should approach neighbors, public land or highways because if not properly contained, the hardy plants spread aggressively and can cause damage to concrete sidewalks, home foundations, and other structures. Running bamboo is particularly problematic when it spreads from one property to another, and causes damage to the neighboring property.
There is much more to write about bamboos (physiology, restraint methods, maintenance, physical characteristics, distribution, propagation), as well as the many other species that have been categorized as invasive in NJ. The Ewing Environmental Commission recommends that all homeowners learn more about the problem of invasive species, the damage that they cause in our ecosystem, and what you can do to halt their spread. The New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team is an organization that is dedicated to that purpose. For starters, take a look at their Do Not Plant List and then check out their Go Native Brochure for beautiful, native alternatives to plant in your home landscape.
Running Bamboo Legislative History
Bill (A3735), establishing requirements for sale and planting of running bamboo, was introduced in the NJ Assembly (217th Legislature) on May 19, 2016. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic). It moved to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. On October 13, 2016 the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee reported favorably upon the bill.
An identical bill (A2301) was introduced in the NJ State Senate on June 6, 2016. It was sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic). It was referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee. No action has been recorded since.
Even clumping has many negatives— it is non native, mosquitos harbor in the shoots, many articles on the attraction of rats . Owner must be vigilant on checking for rhizomes coming through wall of ditch.