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Archive for November, 2020

Appalachian hill cane

Liberally sprinkled on the slopes of many of our Southern mountains, short, tough little shoots of native bamboo have heretofore been growing, unrecognized, unidentified, unclassified and mostly unknown by the botanical community.

And no wonder. When I was growing up in the Blue Ridge mountains I often saw these small nondescript plants on dry slopes in the woods. To us they were so ordinary they didn’t even have a name. For many years I didn’t even know what they were. They weren’t intrusive, nor were they useful in any way we knew. They weren’t especially attractive either, spindly looking, jointed tall grasses. The stems were so tough you couldn’t break them with your hand. Finally a friend identified them to me as “little canes.”

Later in life when I had returned to my ancestral home I found a dense stand of these small canes on a section of bottomland, in full sun, near the creek. The stalks were erect, a little less than half an inch in diameter, and about five feet tall. They were robust plants, growing in profusion alongside an old pasture fence at an elevation of about 2500 feet. About six to eight inches apart, they were practically impenetrable, forming a miniature canebrake.

Worldwide, there are more than a thousand recognized species of bamboo. Of these, only three are natives of North America. Two indigenous species of North American cane, river cane and switch cane, were classified as early as 1788. But the little Appalachian hill cane, our most unique species, was not “discovered” and recognized as a distinctively different plant until 2007.

Hill cane, Arundinaria appalachiana, usually stands at two feet or less, but under optimum conditions it can grow six feet tall. Apart from its diminutive size, this smallish species differs from other canes in one important way. It is deciduous, dropping its leaves in the fall. Common in the southern Appalachians and well known by local residents, Appalachian hill cane had been previously categorized by the scientific community as a deciduous variant of switch cane. Finally Alan Weakley, a botanist with the University of North Carolina, introduced it at Iowa State University where Dr. Lynn Clark, who had already identified 74 new species of cane, immediately recognized it as a new and distinctively different species. (www.public.iastate.edu/-nscentral/news/2007/mar/bamboo.shtml)

My little patch of hill cane was growing right where I didn’t want it, so one winter I cut those leafless stalks all down. The next spring it was right back, vigorous as ever. But in time I had my way with it. Discouraged, it retreated to the edge of the field, where it hid in the shade of a maple tree. Later on, when I found out what it was, I was sorry I had been so bent on its destruction. But not to worry. Cane of any species is not easily eradicated. That was a long time ago, and today there’s still plenty of it, growing tall along the creek bank.

 

 

 

 

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