I love bamboo. I have bamboo bath towels, bamboo sheets, bamboo chopsticks, bamboo placemats, and I once owned a bamboo sweater and several bamboo polo shirts.
It is the bamboo outside the west wall of my home that gives me the most pleasure. The bamboo stays green all winter and is most beautiful when there is snow on its delicate leaves. I watch it sway from my bedroom window and take delight in seeing the bamboo shadows dance across the wall in the afternoon.
In May I will go outside each day and look for culms pushing their way through the soil, anticipating the remarkable new growth that may reach the top of my house within a month. When I put in the first clump of bamboo, it was in front of my dining room window. Now I look for new shoots sprouting from front to back of the house.
This is a wondrous season for me, but if I lived in Woodsburgh Village, about 15 miles from my home, instead of enjoying my little grove, I would be worried. I would redouble my efforts to stomp on the delicate new shoots that pop up in unwanted places and cut the roots that have crossed over onto my neighbors’ ground. A law passed last week in Woodsburgh would make me responsible for confining the plant (actually a grass) to my property, taking reasonable action to prevent the bamboo from invading other properties and I would be liable for expenses incurred by the owner of the invaded property.
The new law also prohibits future planting of bamboo, declaring it an invasive species.
A non-native species is defined as plants or animals introduced by human activity in locations other than their natural range. In the US, these are plants and animals introduced after European settlements. In New York, 35% of all plants are non-native and about one-third of these are also defined as invasive, as they have disrupted the native ecosystem, causing harm to the environment, economy or human health. Soon to be banned for sale on Long Island by state law are Norway maple, loosestrife, honeysuckle and burning bush, amongst others.
Bamboo is on the state’s management list, but it isn’t banned.
I think Woodsburg got it wrong in banning bamboo. Unlike other plants and trees on the state’s list of banned invasive species, bamboo doesn’t spread by seed. Seeds are spread by wind and by birds that have eaten the seeds, so there is no way that such plants can be confined to just one area. They go where wind and birds go. Bamboo spreads by runners. It can’t jump distances. New culms may appear 20 or so feet away from the clump each season, as roots seek a place in the sun. But new shoots can’t appear in a non-contiguous area.
Woodsburg is right in taking action to make bamboo owners responsible for what happens in a neighbor’s property. It is perfectly reasonable for property owners who plant bamboo to take reasonable action to prevent bamboo from invading another’s property.
But it is taking it a step too far to prevent planting bamboo in the first place. It is actually easy to control the spread of bamboo when new shoots come up—they are soft and can easily be crushed by foot and new runner can be torn out of the ground without much effort. It is the grown culms that are difficult to get rid of.
Before I planted my bamboo, I told my neighbor the risks involved and asked his permission to put it in. And each Spring, as new shoots emerge, I walk around, reminding him to look for unwanted bamboo, and crushing culms on his side when I see them. After 20 years, there has been no problem.
If homeowners can confine the growth to their own property, it is the law that is too invasive, not the bamboo. There is too little beauty in the world as it is for an unnecessary law to make it even harder to find.