One man’s bamboo is another man’s bamboozle. Caryn Rickel is a passionate advocate for designating yellow groove bamboo, or Phyllostachys, as an invasive species. She has been working around the clock to bring recognition of the devastation she believes this strain of bamboo is causing to the area.
According to Rickel, “Phyllostachys is not allowed in the ground in Tokyo. In China, it is only used for building. When it cures, it is as strong as steel. The rhizomes (roots with shoots) damage sewers, septics, foundations, chokes all native plants and release a natural herbicide. Nothing else grows in a bamboo forest. There are costs to owners, damages to the ecosystem, and it wipes out forests.”
“We need laws,” Rickel said. “The rest of the world already knows.”
In fact, several towns and cities in New York and Pennsylvania, among others, have created ordinances regulating the use of the species Rickel calls invasive. In Smithtown, NY, an ordinance bans planting bamboo within 10 feet of another’s property.
On a tour of Bethel and Newtown areas where bamboo appears to be growing unabated, Rickel showed how one single plant became dense acres of bamboo in less than two decades time.
“One 10 inch piece creates a whole forest. Each plant creates rhizomes that extend 20 feet around, and each rhizome creates more trees,” Rickel said, holding a piece of root that held shoots every six inches apart. “In May, the shoots come up from the ground almost two feet a day. This grows faster than anything in the world.”
Chief Scientist Jeffrey Ward, Department of Forestry and Horticultural is also part of the CT Agricultural Experiment Station. Ward does not dispute Rickel’s claims. In a letter included in the annual report for The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Ward writes, “I have never seen a species so thoroughly dominate a site and form a mono-culture that completely excludes other plant species.”
Rickel has working hard to push House Bill 5122, which would deem the bamboo an invasive species in need of regulation. But Ward is still not so sure.
“It isn’t technically invasive,” Ward said, “because it is not producing seeds. If this produced seeds, it would be quite a problem.”
The lack of seeds is what keeps the bill from falling under the category of invasive. Ward thinks the lack of seeds may be that they cannot cross pollinate because they are not indigenous to the area. “They are sold sterile, they can’t pollinate with themselves.”
Rickel said seeding is only a matter of time.
“Invasive Species of Concern in Maryland” named Phyllostachys, Invasive Species of the Month, and stated that there are two kinds of bamboo. One is a clumping sort that grows very slowly. The other, Phyllostachys, is called running bamboo because of the way the roots spread. It is known to seed only once every 30 to 150 years, and the articles also said that the only natural enemy of the bamboo is hard to find in Connecticut. Pandas.
Once the bamboo in Maryland area seeded, it died. Because it does not appear to have seeded in CT, it is only of concern where it is planted, so invasive is a hard designation to come by for this grass-based plant. It is also less hardy in shaded areas and cannot tolerate water or swampy conditions, Ward said.
However, Ward added, “I would be really irritated if my neighbors planted it.”
One of the local growers and a lot of people like the way it looks. Mike Johnson, owner of the Summerhill Nursery in Madison, is working with Ward to develop controlled areas of bamboo to determine the manageability of the grass shoots.
“If it’s in a happy place, and soil conditions are right, over time it could spread,” Johnson said, adding his simple solution. “Spray it with Round Up towards the end of July. The plants in the spring are taking nutrients up from the root and that’s where you get the growth. By the end of July that stops and nutrients are beginning to be sent down to the root for next year. That’s the time to spray because the herbicide goes down to the root and kills it.”
Johnson said they sprayed one area in late July and again in August and the next year it was dead. “I had eight different varieties that were sprayed, and they were all Phyllostachys.”
“It’s a runner, so in the early summer, I go around the edge of it with Round Up, and that controls the spreading of it.”
Rickel disputed the theory and said that removing the rhizomes would take nothing less than a backhoe and four years of chemicals.
Johnson said that there are advantages to using bamboo, it just has to be handled properly. “We sell barriers, and 36 “ deep and 60 mil thick polyethylene sheeting. Bamboo is just a matter of using good sense and planting it in the right way. Deer don’t eat them, and that’s one of the advantages for a barrier.”
“I look at the highway,” Johnson said. “A lot of people get killed, but you don’t ban the highway.”