Rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea), found in several Morningside parks, is a native bamboo. Technically a type of grass, Rivercane is nature’s un-rivaled green infrastructure with its extensive underground roots controlling erosion on creek banks and filtering runoff from fertilizers and pavement. When the Europeans arrived Rivercane formed giant canebrakes throughout the southeast–as late as 1820 there is documentation of a 17,250 acre canebrake west of the Flint River in Taylor and Crawford counties in Georgia. Cane provides critical habitat for a variety of wildlife, some of which are dependent on cane for their survival; it was also a central part of indigenous culture. It is now considered a threatened ecosystem, as 98% of the canebrakes have disappeared due to overgrazing and clearing to make way for farms and homes.
Rivercane is most often found in rural areas where it has been left undisturbed, but in Morningside we can find some stands scattered in our parks (most notably Herbert Taylor Park & Daniel Johnson Park, Wildwood Lenox Park, and Morningside Nature Preserve). Where it flourishes, it is home to at least 23 mammals, 16 birds, four reptiles and seven invertebrate species (butterflies and moths). Some of these depend upon Rivercane for their survival. In fact, the virtual extinction of Bachman’s warbler is thought to be due to the disappearance of native cane.
Unfortunately, Rivercane is often confused with non-native bamboo that is prevalent throughout the southeast–here is how you can tell the difference:
1) Size–Rivercane grows much more slowly than Golden bamboo, the most pervasive invasive species. Most native cane is less than an inch in diameter and only 4-10 feet tall. Invasive bamboo grows much more quickly, usually exceeding a height of 15 feet with over 1 inch stems.
2) Stems & Branches–Rivercane puts out one branch per node (ring) each year and adds branches in subsequent years that appear sort of tangled. Bamboo branches occur at the nodes next to each other.
3) Branching angle–when they emerge, native cane branches are almost parallel to the main stem while invasive bamboo branches tend to be almost perpendicular to the stem. Older native cane branches may become more pendulous as they grow heavier with leaves.
Friends of the Parks are working to remove invasive plants so that native species, like Rivercane can thrive. It can protect our parks by holding creek banks to slow or prevent erosion. Its re-emergence will support our native wildlife by providing the nutrition and habitat they need to survive. You can help by volunteering and making sure you are only planting native species in your landscape
From top, L-R:
1 & 2. Rivercane less than 1 inch diameter vs golden bamboo
3 Rivercane branches emerge almost parallel to the stem with subsequent annual branches coming in at the same node almost on top of each other creating a tangle
4 & 5 Golden bamboo branches are almost perpendicular to the stem and grow out from the stem next to each other