Bamboos, which fall under the genus Phyllostachys, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They serve numerous uses in society and the economy. As such, they are widespread.
But this spread is not without some dire consequences in the environments in which they establish. Studies show that bamboo plants can easily become invasive. And in so doing, they can alter the natural balance of an ecosystem.
Clumping bamboo vs. running bamboo
There are two main types of bamboos. The clumping bamboos grow in large clumps, hence their name. They spread at a slow rate, but once they establish, their extensive root systems can push out native plants. Dealing with them is easy, and it involves digging their root systems out.
The running bamboo types are invasive as they spread over large areas within short periods. They survive based on rhizomes, which can spread at distances of at least one hundred feet from their parent plants. Not only are they resistant to herbicides, but they also survive in adverse weather conditions. Thus, dealing with them is difficult.
In this article, we will cover two main running bamboo species, Phyllostachys aurea and Phyllostachys aureosulcata. People often refer to them as golden bamboo and yellow groove bamboo, respectively. The reason behind the emphasis on these two lies in their invasive patterns. While other bamboo species in the ranges of hundreds also exhibit such patterns, these two are the most common. They thus serve as the best examples to exhibit while showing the impact of these plants. Also, learning how to prevent and manage these two will enable you to deal with other bamboo species you may come across. The prevention and management of bamboo plants will touch on all bamboo species, though. Let’s get started:
Phyllostachys aurea (golden bamboo)
This bamboo plant also goes by other names, among them fish pole bamboo and bamboo Amarillo. The naming will also depend on the area in which the plant establishes. The aurea is a highly invasive bamboo, which falls under the running species. It is native to the southeast region of China. However, it has spread around the globe, with North America and Australia suffering the effects of this distribution the most. Other countries have also recorded invasions by this plant.
This perennial grass features a woody stem and develops from rhizomes, and can thus form a monoculture quite fast. As it does so, it suffocates other native species in the area, leading to a decrease in the biodiversity of a system. In turn, the ecological system gets negatively affected following the death of plants and the migration of animals.
But that’s not all. This grass grows fast and strong and has been known to damage property. From walkways to house foundations, this grass can weaken a ton of structures. It also acts as a host to a fungus that spreads the Histoplasmosis disease. As such, it has social, economic, and environmental impacts.
The infestation takes place over a wide area, spreading the negative impacts far and wide. One monoculture can spread over a distance of at least nine miles in every direction. With each year, the monoculture can spread at a similar rate. Where would it be in ten years? This fast growth calls for prompt action when the bamboos seem to be out of control.
Among the countries where this plant is invasive are Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and over two hundred counties in the United States of America. Not only has it infested outdoors, but it has also taken over natural areas such as national parks. For this reason, there have been limitations as to the sale and distribution of this plant.
Phyllostachys aurea identification
The Aurea is a member of the grass family, and it falls under the Phyllostachys genus. Of this genus, there are more than seventy species. This plant often goes by the name golden bamboo, which is a reference to its golden old culms.
It is a woody perennial grass which relies on rhizomes to form dense infestations known as bamboo forests. A stem goes by the name culm, and it comprises many segments, with rings at the joints. The rings go by the name nodes, and the spaces between them go by the name internodes.
The Aurea’s internodes are swollen, which helps in distinguishing this plant from other species. Additionally, they bunch up together at the bottom, which is unlike other species of this genus. The nodes meet at a flare, which has a slight cup.
You can identify this plant by looking at its stems. The stems and the branches will be green when the plant is young. As it matures, the color changes to yellow. The branches grow from the stem in uneven pairs, and they feature a groove known as a sulcus. Culms can grow to a height of up to 38 feet. They can tolerate low temperatures and will grow in places where the temperatures can drop to -20 degrees Celsius.
The width of the stems can be as big as 6 inches. However, in most cases, you will find that the stem is 3.5 inches wide or less. Note that the width will depend on the age of the plant, as well as the suitability of the growing conditions. The stems thicken with each year.
The rhizomes can reach up to 25 feet in the ground when mature. They increase in length each year, as is the case with the stems, and they do so in all directions. In this way, they can form a dense root system through interconnecting with other rhizomes. Through these connections, one plant can have a root system that spreads out at a distance of nine miles in all directions.
The leaves are evergreen. When spring comes, the old leaves fall off and get replaced by new leaves, allowing the plant to be green through all seasons. It is quite rare to come across a plant with flowers and seeds. However, it is not impossible as the plant can do so. The Aurea mainly reproduces by rhizome production.
For this plant, you should be on the lookout for a woody perennial grass that meets the above description. And if you come across one, you have a cause to worry.
The aurea looks a lot like the Phyllostachys aureosulcata, which we will cover later in this article. As such, people often confuse the two. You can tell the two apart by looking at the color of the grooves. The aureosulcata will have a yellow one and has a sandy feel along its canes. But that is not the case with the aurea.
Where can you find Aurea bamboo?
The Aurea is native to the southeast part of China. However, it has spread to other regions over time. A good example would be Japan, where people have actively cultivated it, some out of curiosity. Other places include South America, North America, New Zealand, Ecuador, Mexico, Madagascar, and Europe. In some of these places, the bamboo has naturalized, so much so that it has invaded natural areas.
Aurea bamboo origin
Aurea’s introduction to the United States of America took place in 1882. Given its giant features, it was an excellent material for use in making fishing poles and walking sticks. Over time, the department of agriculture saw it fit to introduce the plant to other parts of the country. As people planted this tree for commercial, agricultural, or ornamental use, they encouraged its spread. And given the ability of one tree to spread over a vast region, it was only a matter of time before it became invasive.
The golden bamboo is a running bamboo, which increases the risk of its spread. This plant survives on an extensive underground rhizome system, which grows at an alarming rate. With people disposing of rhizomes in various places, including water sources, the plant further spreads.
Additionally, people get drawn to the benefits of this plant, both commercial and ornamental. And they thus order the plant online, leading to shipping activities which further spread the infestation.
Where does it grow?
You can come across this plant in undisturbed habitats such as along water sources. It has a preference for full sun and moist soils but can also do well in shaded conditions. As such, there have been cases of its invasion in forested areas. As it grows, it creates a continuous leaf layer that shades out other plants in the ecosystem. It also grows to high heights, which further disadvantages native species. There have been concerns that this plant may have allelopathic effects, which further heighten its distribution. However, there are no studies to establish this, as of yet.
How does it grow?
The Aurea relies on vegetative propagation by way of rhizomes. It can also produce seeds, but this takes place over long intervals. It is important to note that though seed production is rare, it is not impossible. Where seeds emerge, pollination takes place through the wind.
For the rhizomes, the root system spreads fast through an underground network. The network grows in all directions, which further spreads the plant. New stems develop each spring from the spread taking place. Once the stems emerge, they mature in height quite fast. With each year, they become thicker, and this aids in their aggressive spread.
The plants, once established, live long enough to cover at least nine miles in all directions. In this way, the Aurea can invade tons of acres through the formation of monocultures that weed out native species.
Does Aurea bamboo have any uses?
This species is quite useful in a wide range of sectors. For landscapers, it serves as a beautiful ornamental plant, guaranteed to increase the aesthetic value of a setting. It is thus a common garden plant. For wood-workers, this plant is quite strong and can get curved into several shapes. It makes tool handles and woodware for both industrial and domestic use. Additionally, it works for light construction works.
Threats of Aurea bamboo
The Aurea has harmed the economy, environment, and human health of places where it establishes. Here is how this happens:
Dispersal can take place through various methods, as follows:
Where seed production takes place, the seeds can spread by wind, leading to the development of new culms. Seed production is rare, though. Where the plants establish along water sources, rhizome fragments can make their way to other regions. Where the conditions prove to be suitable, the rhizomes will establish.
Improper disposal of rhizome fragments is a leading mode of accidental introduction. Where the fragments are in disturbed areas, machinery is likely to pick them up and spread them. There have been cases where plows have moved the fragments from one area to another. Also, where people dump the fragments in natural areas, the rhizomes could establish. It is, therefore, necessary that people separate the rhizomes from other waste.
The introduction of this plant to regions across the world was deliberate. Take an example of when the plant got introduced to the United States of America. At the time, people looked at bamboo as a source of wood for walking sticks and fishing poles. As such, they put acres of land under Aurea cultivation.
Over the years, people looked to the plant as an ornamental plant, suited for use in landscaping. Nurseries made a kill from selling rhizomes to willing buyers, thereby spreading its distribution. Online sources have also lead to the widespread of the plant. Many people purchase it, unaware of its negative implications on the environment.
Effects of Aurea bamboo
Having golden bamboo as an ornamental plant in your outdoors looks like a good idea. That is until it becomes invasive. When this happens, you are likely to sell your property for much less than you had intended. Clients will shy away from buying the property on seeing the invasion, which could threaten the stability of the structure. Also, getting rid of running bamboos is easier said than done. Not only will you need to be repetitive in the procedures, but you will also incur a lot of money. People have spent tens of thousands of dollars on single infestations. Thus, you would have to sell your property at a reduced value or deal with the problem at hand.
When the Aurea establishes, it forms dense growths known as monocultures. While they look great, they pose a threat to the ecosystem as they overshadow and weed out native species. Where this plant establishes in a natural area, it can take over tens of acres within a few years. It is, thus, a threat to the ecosystem.
The monocultures get in the way of the growth of native species by taking over natural areas. There have been claims as to allelopathic effects of the plant. However, not much evidence of the same exists.
This plant provides suitable roosting positions for blackbirds and starlings, which pose a threat to human health. When these birds leave droppings in the monocultures, the droppings serve as a host to a Histoplasmosis-spreading fungus. In this way, people can inhale fungal spores and get sick.
It is, therefore, important that people dealing with infestations wear dust masks or respirators. Burning of infested areas could also lead to the inhaling of the spores.
Aurea bamboo management
How can you deal with the Aurea? In this section, we will touch on some of the measures you can have in place. At the end of the article, we will delve deeper into management options covering all bamboo species.
The sure way to prevent the spread of this bamboo is to avoid planting it. That means that you should also advise people not to plant running bamboos in their yards.
Where there is a bamboo plant, you should deal with it immediately. In this way, you can keep it from extending its root network and spreading over a large area. Escapes are frequent when the plant establishes, and this makes managing a mature infestation difficult.
People should be aware of the effects of this plant on the environment as this will prevent the cultivation of the same. You can be part of the community efforts in spreading the word as to the effects of this plant. Fact sheets come in handy in spreading information as to the negative impacts of running bamboos. In this way, people will not plant them for any use.
Control Aurea bamboo
Where an infestation has established, you will need to exercise a lot of patience in the eradication process. You need to remove all the bamboo plants in entirety, including the root networks. Following these efforts, you should follow up by monitoring the area for any fragments and growths. In this way, you can avoid another invasion. It helps to note that monitoring takes place over a long period. Here is how you can handle this species:
Some people have advocated for containing this plant to keep escapes from getting to neighboring lands. While this works for a while, it is not effective in controlling this plant. As such, planting it in containers or other zoned areas would not work. Eventually, the plant would escape.
This method requires human labor and can be costly where the infestation is large. In this approach, you dig out the root networks to a level that ensures no fragments get left behind. While it takes time and costs a lot, it has proven to be an effective means of control.
Using cutting to the ground level will not work, even if you do it repetitively. Keep in mind that bamboo is a grass and will, therefore, sprout as grass would when cut. Cutting would only accelerate the growth of rhizomes, which would further spread over a large area. Your best option thus lies in removing the rhizomes from the ground as this will keep them from reaching far lands. In so doing, you will prevent further damage to the environment and property.
After removing the rhizomes, you should check to ensure that there are no fragments left in the ground. Dispose of the rhizomes in the prescribed manner, as set out by the local authority. If there aren’t guidelines on this, you can bag the remains and leave them in a landfill.
Unfortunately, there are no known biological methods of controlling this bamboo species to date. Thus, you cannot count on this technique.
Many laws govern the use of pesticides. You should thus check with the local relevant authority on which chemicals you can use. The chemical of choice should be one with limited or no effects on the native species. Also, it should not interfere with the current and future uses of the land. All manufacturers put labels on their products, and these serve as the guidelines for chemical use. Not only does this ensure that the chemicals work, but it provides you with the safety needed.
You should note that Aurea has a reputation for resisting herbicides, which makes it quite challenging to remove. That is why people opt to dig out the rhizomes as this has proven to be more effective. The rhizomes segment inside in dense stands, and accessing them is not easy. However, that is not to say that you cannot rely on chemicals when dealing with this plant. All you need to do is to apply chemicals on the leaves repeatedly over a while. The monitoring of the infested area will be of the essence after this.
We have now covered the golden bamboo, a running bamboo species that spreads over miles within a few years. You can see that eradicating it is not an easy task, though it is manageable. In the next section, we will focus on a look-alike of this plant; the Phyllostachys aureosulcata. You will see some similarities in their growth patterns, impacts, and dispersal methods. Here goes:
Phyllostachys aureosulcata (yellow groove bamboo)
There was a mention of this plant when covering the Phyllostachys aurea, as these two species are quite similar. As is the case with the Aurea, the aureosulcata is also a running bamboo species, which is highly invasive. It goes by the name yellow groove bamboo and is native to China. Its introduction to other parts of the globe took place owing to its ornamental benefits. It has become a problematic plant in North America and Australia. It also features an underground rhizome system and can spread over vast distances. Having it in your outdoors is not advisable as it keeps you at risk of contracting Histoplasmosis.
Phyllostachys aureosulcata identification
Like the Aurea, this plant is a perennial, woody, and rhizomatous grass that forms dense monocultures. It also comprises stems with jointed segments and nodes and internodes adorning the stem. You can identify it by looking for a yellow groove located on the internodes, roughness on new stems, and fading out of the stem with age. The new stems also feature white stripes on the sheaths, which is quite a distinctive feature.
The height, width, and growth pattern of the stems is like that of the golden bamboo.
This plant, which is native to China, is widely distributed in the United States of America, Australia, Europe, and Germany. Its introduction to the United States took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. It served both ornamental and commercial uses and slowly began to naturalize in some states. Its dispersal took place by human cultivation as well as the spread of rhizomes along water channels. It spreads at a fast rate, and once it establishes in an area, widespread distribution is imminent.
It relies on an underground rhizome system to spread and can grow in a wide range of habitats. A study done on this species shows that it can establish in at least 30% of the available habitats in the USA. And with people disposing of rhizomes in an un-prescribed manner, danger lurks in every corner. Additionally, there are online sales that allow for the spread of this species across the globe.
Where does it grow?
This bamboo occupies areas with moist soils and full sun. However, it will grow in areas with partial shade and can, therefore, survive in forested conditions. It is common along water sources.
How does it grow?
It grows similarly to the Aurea, and you can refer to the golden bamboo’s growth pattern above for this information.
The aureosulcata spreads through natural, accidental, and intentional means, as is the case with the aurea. The difference here is that the aureosulcata got introduced as a source of wood for stakes in addition to making fishing poles. Its impacts on the society, environment, and economy are like those of the aurea.
Aureosulcata bamboo management
You can deal with this species as you would with the aurea.
You can see that bamboo species are closely related, though they have some differences. Thus, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. It is with this in mind that you can now adopt the following measures when dealing with any bamboo species:
Management of common bamboo plants
Where you have bamboo plants in your yard, your efforts should go into ensuring they do not spread to other areas. Given that they survive on an extensive underground root system, this could be quite a hurdle. One way to deal with the bamboo plants would be to severe the rhizomes, which has proven to be effective. From here, you can install barriers in the ground to prevent escapes. Note that the barriers would only serve as temporary solutions as the plant would overcome them with time. Alternatively, you could eradicate all the bamboos in your yard, leaving it alien-free. Integrating various methods will give you the best results. Here goes:
Start by making a trench around the bamboo plant, measuring at least twenty-eight inches in depth. Position the trench at a distance of at least two feet from the bamboo shoot. Here, you will find rhizomes growing under the ground. They will be similar to the main stem of the bamboo. If you do not come across any rhizomes, they are likely more in-depth than this. As such, dig deeper until you find them.
Once you find the root network, you should work on removing the rhizomes, as this will prevent their spread. However, this will depend on what you want to do with the plant. If you wish to remove the bamboo rhizomes and keep them from spreading completely, remove all the rhizomes at a distance of two feet. You can do this by cutting them with a shovel in two sections and removing the severed parts. Where you wish to have the bamboo plant in a given area, work on eliminating rhizomes growing outside that space.
Where the rhizomes are thick, you can use a saw as it would make your work easy. In this case, you can dig out the soil surrounding the rhizomes to give you access to the roots.
In the trench, you can now place a plastic barrier. Ensure that the barrier you choose works for bamboo trees. Luckily, there are many options for the same, which you can find both online and in gardening stores. The barrier should be deep to the extent of at least twenty-eight inches in the soil. In this way, it can keep rhizomes from spreading to unwanted areas. It will also prevent the growth of new roots.
Once the barrier is in place, you can now cover the trench with soil. The soil will provide support to the barrier and will make it less noticeable. Pat down the soil as you finish covering the trench.
Rhizomes are very aggressive, and for this reason, you will need to monitor their growth in the subsequent months. Each time they grow, you will need to cut them before they can spread. As long as the bamboo is in active growth, new roots will sprout from it. The only way to keep the roots from growing would be to severe all the root networks in an area.
Note that rhizomes can grow at a rate of up to five feet in a year. As such, you should continuously cut them at least twice a year to control their growth. For running bamboos, the risk of invasion is high, and it is not advisable to use trenches to prevent their growth. They find a way to escape and rapidly spread over other areas. But with clumping bamboos, control of their growth is a much more manageable task, as they grow at a rate of three feet a year. Some will even grow at a rate of one foot a year. You can thus control them by cutting the rhizomes once a year.
It could be that the bamboo has spread to a level where it is now invasive. Controlling it would thus not be an easy option owing to the thick rhizomes or widespread root networks. In this case, you would need to employ other methods, as shown below:
Using chemicals on any land requires that you assess the impact that the herbicides would have on native species. After consulting with the relevant local authority and considering your land use, you can choose a suitable herbicide.
A herbicide containing glyphosate would be a good choice. This chemical has proven to be effective in the killing of entire stems and root networks. Note that this chemical is non-selective, and it will thus kill any plant it comes into contact with. That means that you should use it with care around other vegetation and time your applications accordingly.
Cut Stump Application
Start by cutting the bamboo plant as near the ground surface as is possible. Where the infestation is significant, you might need to use a saw to cut through the thick stems. The tree might be so big that you might need to cut it in half before cutting it off at the base. The best time to conduct the cutting would be towards the end of winter. You can then give the trees time before they exhibit new growths on the stumps. Use the herbicide on the new growths as this will kill not only the stems but also the root network. Ensure that you aim the chemical at the top of the stump, avoiding any native species in the vicinity. Using the chemical on a calm day would be ideal, as this would prevent the spread of the herbicide over a large area.
When using chemicals, dress protectively, ensuring that you cover all your body parts, including the hands and eyes. Do not dilute the chemical, unless the label states the need to do so. Dilution has proven to make herbicides less effective in their working. Also, adhere to the instructions on the label, regarding temperature and moisture requirements. Using chemicals near water sources poses a threat to humans, animals, and native species. You should thus get a chemical certified for use in such conditions. Following instructions is for your safety and that of native species.
Chemical applications will not work overnight, owing to the aggressive root networks that are characteristic of bamboo plants. As such, you will need to repeat this process over some time before the results show. Each time new growths emerge, cut them down and spray the chemical on them. The applications should take place in spring and summer.
Using chemicals will take time but would be the best option for large infestations, where manual labor would prove too expensive.
The most effective means of dealing with bamboo plants involves removing them using physical methods. It works because it deals with the root of the problem. Here is how you can do it:
Start by cutting the stalk to the ground level. The tool of choice will depend on the extensiveness of the infestation. Where the stems are big, you can use a saw. For small growths, a pruner or other such tool would work. In doing this, you will weaken the plant, but you will not kill it as the root network will be active.
You can now dig a hole around the stalk, enabling you to gain access to the underground root network. You will see the roots attached to the main stem, and you can work on severing them with a shovel. The rhizomes are similar to the culm in appearance, only that they grow under the ground. As you remove and severe the network, you will keep the plant from spreading underground.
Follow the root network from the main stalk as you need to remove all the rhizomes arising from the same. Leaving them in the ground will lead to new growths, taking place at a fast rate. For clumping bamboos, this should not be hard as the root networks are close-knit. But with running bamboo species, the root network spreads at a fast rate, and you will need to cover a wide area in your eradication.
Another method you could use is mowing, where the emerging stalks are young. In this case, you would aim to weaken the plant, so much so that it eventually dies. Mowing will not kill the plant, but it will prevent the growth of new shoots. Over time, you should notice a reduction in the growths. You will need to keep at mowing if you wish to see permanent results. Failure to do so will lead to the emergence of new shoots, aided by the root network, which will spread fast in response to the mowing.
Running bamboo species can be a headache to deal with, more so when they establish in an uncontrolled setting. However, you can get rid of them by integrating both manual and chemical means. Also, spreading the word as to their invasiveness will keep people from distributing them across the globe. Though clumping bamboos may not be as invasive, they can also wreak havoc on the environment over time. You should thus avoid planting bamboo plants altogether.