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Destructive bamboo becomes home space invader

By Judy Benson

Publication: The Day

Published November 13. 2012 4:00AM   Updated November 13. 2012 10:36AM
Photo courtesy of Robin Arcarese
Invasive bamboo sprouts at the Bozrah home of Robin Arcarese.
Meeting could be call for state action

This spring, Robin Arcarese began to realize her home was being invaded.

One day, she looked up at the roof of the garage of the Bozrah home she and her husband purchased 18 months ago, and noticed some leafy stalks poking through the shingles.

"I said, 'What's coming out of my roof?'" she recalled Monday.

Over the next few months, she found the same stalks growing up out of her cement walkway, through the siding of her Cape and under the foundation of the garage.

"We had to have the siding removed and replaced," she said.

The invader was yellow groove bamboo, a native of China that a neighbor had planted in his yard some seven years earlier. Unless contained by special barriers more than 2 feet deep, it can spread rapidly underground by sending out rhizomes that produce new shoots. Fully grown, the bamboo, also known as running bamboo or giant timber bamboo, can grow 40 feet tall and spread out 15 to 20 feet per year, according to Caryn Rickel of Seymour, founder of the Institute of Invasive Bamboo Research. At her home and two other properties she owns, she said, it's invaded a septic system, driveway, gazebo and other areas.

Tonight in Orange, Rickel and others hoping for state action to curb invasive bamboo will call attention to their concerns at a meeting at 7 at the High Plains Community Center. They're hoping their stories about the damage bamboo has caused to their properties will persuade the state lawmakers invited to the meeting to introduce legislation in the 2013 session. The problem, she noted, has prompted more than a dozen communities around the country to enact or consider bans.

"It's very, very hard to kill without risking human health and the environment," Rickel said. "We feel it should be banned."

Donna Ellis, co-chairwoman of the state's Invasive Plant Working Group and senior extension educator at the University of Connecticut, said there are more than 100 locations around the state where running bamboo is a problem. Often planted as a natural fence along property lines, she noted that it is different from clumping bamboo, which does not have the same aggressive growth habits and is not considered a problem. It is also different from the small ornamental plants known as lucky bamboo.

One of those who plans to attend tonight's meeting is Daniel Wade of East Lyme. In April, he said, a neighbor planted 16 running bamboo stalks, each about 25 feet high, along the property line as the latest volley in an ongoing dispute. Wade said he contacted the town for help, only to be told that since there is no law against yellow grove bamboo, there was nothing officials could do.

"The state should pass a law preventing people from growing it outside of containers," Wade said. "People shouldn't use it as a weapon to destroy a neighbor's property. It would be best if the state just got rid of it entirely, because it's not native."

Last month, the state's Invasive Plants Council considered adding yellow grove bamboo to the official list of plants considered invasive, but found it didn't meet all criteria of the state's legal definition for invasives, said Bill Hyatt, chairman of the council and chief of the Bureau of Natural Resources at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Still, after hearing from affected property owners and visiting several sites, the council was convinced that action is needed.

"We did recognize that considerable property damage is being caused by this plant," he said.

It voted to send a recommendation to the legislature for a new law that would require education for bamboo sellers about the plant's aggressive ways and that it be contained within pots or barriers set into the ground.

"We also support assigning liability to property owners for its spread (to adjacent properties)," Hyatt said.

But because the legislation would only apply to in-state nurseries and not to the out-of-state online sellers, there is also a need to educate the general public about yellow grove bamboo, he added.

"The challenge is to make people aware of what they're buying," he said.

One recent effort to educate the public came from the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association. About a year ago, it developed a tag it recommends nursery owners use on yellow grove bamboo plants for sale. The tag warns buyers that the plant spreads rapidly and that a barrier 28 to 30 inches deep and 2 inches above the soil should be placed around the plants. Concrete, fiberglass, polyethylene or metal are the materials recommended for the barrier. Bob Heffernan, executive director of the association, said he's heard the horror stories, but doesn't believe an outright ban is necessary.

"When it's properly contained, it doesn't go anywhere," he said. "But there is a personal responsibility (on the part of the property owner) to construct a barrier."

At Arcarese's property and her neighbor's, the bamboo is now gone, thanks to the work of Dennis Rogan, owner of an excavating company. About two weeks ago, Rogan said, he finished digging it up with a backhoe, removing the soil up to 16 inches deep where it grew, sifting out all the rhizomes and sending them to an incinerator. New soil was brought in.

For the first several years on the neighbor's property, he said, "it was a pretty plant. Then all of a sudden it turned into this monster."

He alerted Arcarese and her neighbor to keep watch for any shoots next spring and attack them immediately.

He estimates he collected about five cubic yards of rhizomes from an area about 75-by-45-foot area.

"It was a pretty considerable effort," he said.

j.benson@theday.com

 

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