Bamboo Native to North America

Bamboo is such a versatile plant.  Native Americans traditionally used and still use native bamboo canes to make structures, weapons, fishing equipment, jewelry, mats, baskets, musical instruments, furniture, boats, pipe stems, and medicines. Traditional food uses include flour, cereal, and even “asparagus” of young shoots.  At the time of European settlement there were hundreds of thousands of acres of “canebrakes” covering much of the Eastern United States. These ecosystems rapidly declined with the onset of overgrazing, burning, and agricultural clearing.

Today, there are many types of bamboo that are cultivated in the U.S., most of which are non-native and can be very invasive if not properly contained.  Bamboo makes an excellent evergreen privacy fence and has endless uses in the home and garden.  Below is detail about the three species of bamboo that are native to the U.S. and can easily be grown there: 

Switch Cane (Arundinaria tecta) 

Switch Cane is native to the southeastern part of the United States and can grow to around 8-12 feet.  In shady areas it will tend to stay shorter and more bushy.  Switch cane is closely related to the larger River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea), but generally only grows to half the height of River Cane. Switch Cane prefers areas that are low lying, shady and moist. Caterpillars and the southern pearly eye butterfly often like to eat its leaves. Its appearance is that of large grass with woody delicate stems. 

Hill Cane grows in areas of the southern Appalachian Mountains.  This species of bamboo was treated as a subspecies of Switch Cane until 2006 when it was shown to be a distinct species. Hill Cane stands out from the other native bamboo species in that it looses its leaves during the autumn season, and is relatively short compared to other bamboo types (2 feet tall).  It grows in drier mesic areas of upland slopes, bluffs, oak, and hickory forests.

River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea)

River cane, also known as canebreak bamboo, once covered thousands of acres in North America. Native Americans loved hunting in the ‘canebrakes’ because they were the hiding grounds of bear, deer, turkey and other small game.   River Cane can tolerate a range of temperatures and soils. It can grow from sea level to 2,000 feet in the Appalachian Mountains and will grow in sandy, rocky soil, or rich alluvial areas. It can also withstand extreme temperatures of -10 degrees to 105 degrees, sun or some shade.   River Cane has been known to grow as tall as 30 feet, but on average reaches around 20 feet.

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