Most Hated Plants: Bamboo

Invasive Bamboo

The Most Hated Plants series is devoted to the worst of the worst invasive plants. These plants are causing great ecological harm and habitat devastation for wildlife, plus the cost of managing these plants is billions of dollars of taxpayer money every year.

Knowing these plants will help you make much healthier decisions for your wildlife garden because you won’t plant them. You won’t purchase them from your local nursery, no matter how persuasive they are about the wonderful qualities of these noxious invaders.

The photo above is taken across the street from my house at my neighbor’s. When he bought this house several years ago, he had to bring in a bulldozer to remove the bamboo forest that had engulfed his backyard. It was a huge effort and a big expense.

But as you can see, they did not remove all of the bamboo, and now he’s going to have to spend that money all over again.

Several hundred species of bamboo have been imported into this country by the horticultural industry for use as ornamental plants. 24 of these are in the genus Phyllostachys, the most invasive of these plants.

I would love to see the day when we hold the horticultural/landscaping industry accountable for these actions, because as taxpayers we are spending $138 BILLION every year in an attempt to manage these plants.

In Philadelphia we have been blessed with one of the largest urban parks in the country. Fairmount Park covers 9200 acres and claims 10% of the land area in Philadelphia.

Sadly, much of this park is overrun with invasive plants, including bamboo, which outcompete native plants and provide nothing for wildlife.

A drive along the Wissahickon Creek in this park will show you bamboo, Paulownia Trees, Norway Maples, and many other invasive plants which have disturbed the natural ecosystem of the park.

A huge chunk of the parks operating budget every year is spent in controlling the spread of these plants.

I dream of the day when we will stop planting these noxious invaders, when nurseries will stop selling them, or their sale will be prohibited. That would give us $138 billion savings that could be put to much better use in creating habitat for wildlife, instead of managing these plants that are destroying habitat and ecosystems.

What’s your most hated plant? You know, that one you’ve been pulling and pulling for so many years now?

© 2010, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of EcosystemGardening.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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Comments

  1. Nif says

    We have a bamboo grove that we can’t afford to remove. However, bamboo can be managed, in a yard anyway, with diligent attention. In the spring once the shoots start coming up we go out every day to remove them. This is easy – they just snap off. We remove the short summer shoots so that they don’t feed the roots. This is harder, and requires sharp snips. Hardest of all, we dig up the roots that have run to places we don’t want them. They’re shallow, but very very tough. We’ve succeeded in containing the grove to a remarkable extent!

    It’s an annoying plant in lots of ways, but the robins love to nest in it.

    • Carole Brown says

      Kudos to you for trying to keep in under control! I know that’s hard work and your efforts need to be applauded.

    • Davor says

      If you realy want to remove it, just cut it all down and mow it conistently, It will die soon and rot off compleetly within few years.

  2. says

    I’m always careful with the varieties of bamboo I use in people’s gardens as they can be a problem. Do you find the black bamboo to be a problem in the US? In the UK it doesn’t tend to be invasive. Can’t believe you guys have to spend so many billions controlling these invasive plants – as you say, what a waste of money!
    .-= Rachel Mathews´s last blog ..How To Choose The Right Plants For Your Garden =-.

    • Carole Brown says

      Black bamboo is one of the 24 Phyllostachys species that are so invasive here. That entire genus is problematic here. So no, I wouldn’t recommend it for use in the US. I’m not familiar with the invasive plants of the UK, but I think many of your “problems” are native to the US. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

      • Rob MacDonald says

        I am responding to the bamboo information. As someone who has grown bamboo for 5 years and done as much research on bamboo, I find your information misleading. Yes, bamboo can be invasive but it is more of a problem in landscapes where someone plants the wrong kind in the wrong place or they just don’t realize the maintenance involved. I also see bamboo as the single greatest plant to have blessed this earth. It produces more oxygen than trees, sequesters more co2 than trees, provides filtering for land and water that is in ecologically damaged areas, provides erosion control, provides many families across the world with nutritious food, provides food for many animals, and provides lumber to build with. It is truly an amazing plant. Please do some research and find for yourself the many benefits of bamboo. thank you

        • Carole Sevilla Brown says

          Bamboo may be all of those things, but that does not change the fact that it is invasive, and where bamboo has wiped out native plant communities, it is not supporting any wildlife. Our purpose here is to create habitat for wildlife. Just because you think bamboo is pretty does not mean that it should be planted in our gardens if our goal is to give something back to wildlife after we’ve destroyed all of their habitats.

  3. says

    Carole, it’s true that the UK has invasives from the USA. Rhododendron is a terrible problem in Scottish nature reserves. It invades woodland and shades out the native species and the Scottish Wildlife Trust has spent a lot of time and money trying to remove it. And in the Pacific Northwest, where rhododendron is endangered, Scotch broom Cytisus scoparius is a problem!

    Aren’t we good at messing things up?
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last blog ..Rabbit, Hummingbird, and Squirrel =-.

    • Carole Brown says

      Yes, we are very good at moving things around for our own pleasure without a care in the world about what the possible consequences may be. Hopefully we’ll learn our lesson soon!

  4. says

    Thankfully, we’ve got no bamboo in this yard. There are spots in town that are overrun.

    I was unutterably horrified to discover a colony of English Ivy in the wooded area of my yard yesterday, though–I ripped it out with extreme prejudice, and discovered that it was rooted in a crumpled peat planter. It appeared one of the neighbors had one of those hanging baskets on their front porch or something, thought the ivy was dead, and hucked it into the woods (possibly thinking “Hey, dirt goes in the woods, it’ll be fine there.”) Unfortunately it wasn’t dead–fortunately, it was sufficiently weakened and the area sufficiently overrun with honeysuckle and wild grape that it had only barely outgrown the pot and hadn’t gotten a significant foothold. I hope.

    The heart quails.
    .-= UrsulaV´s last blog ..Stuff In My Yard: Leaf-Folding Caterpillars =-.

    • Carole Brown says

      Ursula, I’m so glad you discovered it before it took over the whole woods! You have done your good deed for the day. Congrats!

  5. says

    In one of my first landscaping jobs we were install a 4′ plastic barrier around some existing bamboo. I was still finding bamboo runners 3 feet down in anerobic soil. So if you’re going to use a barrier, it had better be installed all the way down. The best way to control running bamboos is not to plant them in the first place.
    .-= Curtis´s last blog ..Rebirth– Spring in New England =-.

    • Carole Brown says

      Curtis, I sure do wish all landscapers were as responsible as you are! I’ve seen bamboo crack through a 4 foot deep concrete barrier, so even if people actually try to contain it it doesn’t work very well. I’m with you, the best way to control it is to stop planting it.

      • Caryn Rickel says

        Carole, pls let me know how I can contact you regarding Phyllosatchys
        It is very important-please let me know..I need to speak with you . Thanks

  6. Jay says

    I have a bamboo in my front garden that is of the clump forming variety which has stayed put since I planted it 5 years ago. I’m actually thinking of lifting it and dividing it this year to give me some more growth. Main problem in this area is Japanese KnotWeed which spreads everywhere.
    Jay – north Wales

  7. Sporter says

    I wanted to put in bamboo to make a wall between my “wonderful” neighber and myself. But after reading how invasive the plant is I have changed my mind. But this doesn’t solve my problem. I want to make a wall of plants that is not too expensive and will create a tall wall fairly quickly. What plant would be good for this. I do plan to keep my side of the wall pruned and looking good.

    Thanx for any advive

    • Carole Sevilla Brown says

      The best source of information for plants that will provide the most benefit for the wildlife of your area is your local native plant society. Without knowing where you live or the conditions in your garden, it is impossible for me to make recommendations for you.

  8. says

    if one can’t afford to remove bamboo, find someone who builds with it, maybe he will pay YOU. Have you read “Acres of Diamonds”? The value of a thing is based only on one’s perspective. Change your perspective and maybe you can find your own acre of diamonds right in your backyard. I love the “invasivore” idea. Stir-fried organic bamboo shoots anyone?

    I wouldn’t plant a runner type bamboo in my small yard at any cost though. That’s just ignorant use of an otherwise valuable plant.
    June recently posted..Stroll Through My Garden

  9. Scott says

    You Carole are a narrow minded and misinformed individual who thinks that because you spent some time as a biologist reading books that you know everything about horticulture.
    If you are going to publish information on a specific species of plant such as Phyllostachys then you should also inform your readers that there are many hundreds of non-invasive species that are beautiful, sustainable and benificial. When slagging off the bamboo as destructive, invasive and non-benificial to wildlife you are misleading your readers that ALL bamboo is evil.
    You are a typical self appointed expert talking about a topic that you actually seem to know very little about. Get your facts straight and stop misleading us. There are over 1500 species of bamboo worldwide and a vast number of them are non-invasive. So next time you want to get on your high-horse and tell everyone just how bad bamboo is, then maybe you should point this out.

    • Davor says

      Alos, she forgets to point out that even the most invasive bamboos can be easily kept at bay with propper care and some planing ahead.

      I’m keeping most of my evil p nigra at bay without any bariers or trenches, just by mowing off the shots where I don’t want them. Rest is controlled by a simple trench.

      It’s interesting how Carole always advises the most ineffective and most costly option for geting rid of bamboo (diging it up). It’s not that i’m implying that she has some interest in bringing business to professional landscapers, but it’s just curious…

      • GARY DIAMOND says

        Because dummy there is no other way to do it, unless your superman and rip it out with a pickaxe

        i just removed 250 x 250 of bamboo hell

    • Michael says

      There are native cane species that could be used as a horticultural replacement in certain situations.

    • Fisher says

      I don’t think anyone is trying to say that bamboo is a bad plant. It is indeed a wonderful subfamily of grasses with many, many uses and natural benefits. That said, there are some species that are becoming invasive in certain regions on the United States, notably in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, because the people who planted them did not realize the great speed at which bamboo (especially members of the genus Phyllostachys) spreads via their unique rhizome system. They have spread into areas outside gardens and crowded out native plants, damaging ecosystems in the process.

      Phyllostachys bamboo is not the only invasive species causing problems in the region – kudzu, English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, mimosa tree, and callery pear are all plants that were brought in for similar purposes to Phyllostachys (ornamentals, erosion prevention) and have now caused great damage to the ecosystems by crowding out and choking out native plants. A full list of invasive plants for PA residents can be found here: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/plants/invasiveplants/index.htm. There are also suggestions as to how to manage these invasive plants. Nif’s comment above probably outlines the best way to control Phyllostachys. I also like the idea of using the shoots for stir-fry that June suggested. ^_^

      For the Mid-Atlantic region, there are several native plants that can be used instead of bamboo for the same purpose. Scouring rush horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), Giant cane (Arundinaria gigantean, which looks a lot like golden bamboo), and Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) are some suggestions.

      As gardeners and horticulturalists, we should try to be responsible with our choices of plants and their maintenance, for both the ecosystems we affect but also because its sort of rude to invade someone else’s yard with a plant you put in. It’s fine to have bamboo in your garden, you just need to be vigilant about its spread beyond your chosen plot for it. Some people are not willing to put that kind of work in, so they should skip the bamboo and go for the native or lower maintenance species instead.

      • Tim says

        I agree – to an extent. Most invasive species can be controlled by an educated, responsible, and diligent gardener. However, even a highly controlled bamboo grove can quickly get out of control when that responsible gardener retires from gardening, dies, or sells his property excusing his/herself from the responsibility. It’s easy to assume that a new property owner will have no clue, nor the desire, to engauge in practices needed to maintain a bamboo grove perimeter – and THAT’s the crux of the problem, in my opinion.

        Most “horror stories” I read about invasive species come from new property owners, or from gardeners that did not follow best practices, or ones that made the fateful mistake of thinking a man-made barrier (of any sort) is a fool-proof remedy. Clearly nature can and does find a way dispite our best efforts.

        Disclaimer: I have a bamboo grove. Two in fact. Both planted before we became environmentally educated and both are vigilently controlled and maintained. Bamboo isnt over hard to control and maintain, it just takes dedication. And while I find bamboo attractive, easy to control (because I know how), and unique in our area – we do plan to kill off the grove (via backhoe erratication) proir to leaving the property, if not sooner.

        When we are asked, we give the following advise about planting bamboo: You MUST own AND maintain a 15′-20′ clear parimeter around the entire grove from ALL sides – without exception. It doesnt matter if it’s clumping, or running. If you have at least 15′ – it’s easy to maintain and control. If you dont – you absolutely will regret planting bamboo. Never assume you can contain it without vigilent maintenance. You can not.

  10. Carol Merritt says

    I love your site! From my experiences with Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys) everything you are saying about it is factual. I wish it would be placed on the invasives list by the Federal Government. It needs be there.

  11. GARY DIAMOND says

    Worst thing i ever planted in my life i just had it ripped out in 12 years it took over 25% of my place its was 250 feet x 250 feet

    here a pic of me holding a power washed bamboo

    i live in southbury CT.

    http://i279.photobucket.com/albums/kk156/waterisagass/mewithwalkingdeadnhoodie_zpsd5732cb0.jpg

    here a pic of the the guy who helped get it out, with his machine

    http://i279.photobucket.com/albums/kk156/waterisagass/ALTHEBAMBOOKILLERwithpowerwashedroot_zpsea69de38.jpg

Trackbacks

  1. […] I have no doubt that the product I was holding was probably friendlier to the environment than one made of wood. Still, I could not help but shudder a bit as I returned it to the shelf. Because I have had the deep misfortune to have recently purchased a house whose backyard has been colonized by a non-native, invasive species: bamboo. […]

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