A Friend Indeed

Anyone hiking the Woodland Park trails will notice that the huge stand of Arundo donax (giant cane) located near Wrightwood, on the east side of the bayou, has been removed. We owe a big thank you to Ryan Harbert, Master Naturalist and friend of Woodland Park, for his efforts to control this highly invasive plant.

Arundo donax has a deservedly bad reputation for taking over riparian and wetland areas, often replacing the native bamboo Arundinaria gigantea (river cane). The native cane was an important part of Native American culture in the south, as it was the primary source material for baskets, as well being used for blowguns, bows, arrows, flutes, building materials etc. A. gigantea stands are also the nesting habitat for the rare Bachman warbler.

By contrast, the invasive Arundo donax contributes little to southern ecosystems. It has few natural enemies, does not provide a food source for native fauna, and it is one of the fastest growing terrestrial plants and is therefore difficult to manage. It was introduced to the United States as an effective agent for erosion control, as well as a possible source of bio-fuels.

By contrast, in its native Mediterranean/Mid-East home it has a fascinating history of use. Its leaves were used for wrapping dead bodies in ancient Egypt. Its stout steams have been used for centuries as the preferred reeds for wind instruments such as clarinets and bagpipes, and the hollow shafts have been used for thousands of years as flutes and pan pipes. The high silica content in the reeds make it extremely strong yet light-weight so it has been used a construction material for millennia. In modern times in Asia, A. donax has been used for phytoremediation to remove contaminants such as arsenic and lead from soils. Its tolerance to metals allows the plants to translocate toxic contaminants from the soil to the shoots.

Thus while we celebrate the removal of Arundo donax from our local ecosystems we can also appreciate why it was introduced around the world!