Fast-growing bamboo seen as need for fast action

Fast-growing bamboo seen as need for fast action


Filed photo - Bamboo begins to over take a shed in the backyard of a Wallingford home, Aug. 22, 2013. | (Andrew Ragali / Record-Journal)

WALLINGFORD – The push is on to create an ordinance regulating bamboo planting, as a fast-growing species spreads into the town’s Beseck Meadow open-space property.

“Some people are pressing for a local ordinance,” said Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare. Conversations at recent Conservation Commission meetings have centered on how the non-native bamboo can be eradicated on delicate open-space property, and how a possible ordinance would be worded, she said.

Located off of Powder Hill Road in Durham is a small gravel road, purchased by the town as an easement to access the open-space property. Alongside the gravel road is a home. About five years ago, the owners of the home planted the bamboo to create a privacy screen. Since the planting was discovered a few years ago, O’Hare and members of the Conservation Commission have documented its growth and that of other bamboo plantings throughout the town. Assisting them is Caryn Rickel, who created the Institute for Invasive Bamboo Research.

At minimum, said O’Hare, the bamboo growth at the Durham residence has grown to be about 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, with stalks about 15 feet high. The species, yellow groove bamboo, is known for the yellow stripes on every other node, Rickel said. It’s known as “running bamboo” because it spreads through a large underground stem called a rhizome. The species’ roots can extend 20 feet annually, Rickel said, allowing it to enter the open-space property and the property of a neighboring homeowner as well. The homeowners who planted the bamboo moved away last summer, she said.

“Wallingford has quite a few infestations that were just called in, and they’re quite large,” Rickel said.

O’Hare, Rickel and commission members were also alerted to another large growth on Merriman Lane. Located behind the homes at 23 and 25 Merriman Lane is a growth 300 feet across, Rickel said.

Rickel helped identify the species as yellow groove. The growth, originating from one property, has engulfed a shed and has spread onto a second property. The homeowners of the properties and their neighbors were unavailable for comment.

“It looks like Vietnam in there,” Rickel said. “They’ve got to do something.”

Preventing the spread of bamboo into neighboring yards is exactly the point of new legislation passed by the state that will take effect Oct. 1. The spread of the bamboo is underground, and very difficult to slow, said Rickel. Simply mowing it or chopping stalks does not neutralize the plant. Most people plant bamboo for its beauty, or its purpose as a natural screen, but many are unaware of its invasive effects, she said. Running bamboo can grow up to 40 feet tall, and is extremely resilient to cold weather.

The new state law does not prevent the planting of bamboo of any kind, said Senack Logan, the state’s invasive plant coordinator with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. But it does make people who plant, or allow running bamboo to be planted on their property, liable for any damages caused to a neighboring property. That includes the cost of removing the plant. Also, the new law requires those who plant bamboo to do so at least 100 feet from neighboring properties, said Bill Hyatt, DEEP’s bureau chief of natural resources. Those who sell and install running bamboo will also be required to educate customers about its growing habits and ways to contain it when the new law goes in effect, he said.

DEEP and UConn hosted an informational session for municipalities on Aug. 20 in Milford to explain the nuances of the new law, Hyatt said.

“In the course of that meeting, one of the points that we tried to make and convey is that in this stat, bamboo is not an invasive species,” he said.

The state Invasive Plants Council has twice examined running bamboo for its potential as an invasive, said Logan. But state statute still does not consider the bamboo invasive, because “other invasive plants can move large distances and show up where no one plants them,” he said. “Running bamboo doesn’t spread, except in the immediate vicinity. There’s a lot of human involvement.”

Rickel does not agree that running bamboo is not invasive.

“The law is a good start, but we need better protection,” she said. “We need this bamboo declared a nuisance. It’s bad for property value.”

Along the Muddy River near Liney Hall Lane, Rickel and Dianne Saunders, of the Conservation Commission, came across several loose rhizomes. Rickel said it was proof that running bamboo can spread without human involvement. And if it were to travel down river into the difficult to access Tyler Mill open space property, it would be almost impossible to eradicate, she said.

While O’Hare is aware of the bamboo issue in town, it’s still a relatively new problem, she said. “We have not come up with a course of action on how to address this.”

A local ordinance can be used as a mechanism to further build upon state law, Hyatt said. If running bamboo were considered an invasive species, municipalities would not have the power to further regulate, Logan said. The town of Bozrah is the first to establish an ordinance regulating running bamboo. The Bozrah ordinance stipulates that bamboo plantings be set back at least 40 feet away from neighboring properties.

Dennis Rogan is a Bozrah resident who owns an excavating company. Rogan said he knows first-hand the chaos that ensues when running bamboo isn’t properly controlled. Over the last three years, he’s eradicated bamboo at four different properties. Chemicals don’t work so well, he said, because of the sturdiness of the plant. Logan and Hyatt agreed that chemicals are still being researched, but that digging up the plant, as Rogan does, is the best method of abatement.

“We dig it out, shake as much dirt out of the roots as we can, put it in dumpsters and ship it to incinerate it,” Rogan said. “You have to burn it, it’s the only way we’ve found to kill it.”

If properly dried, Logan and Hyatt said, the bamboo stalk can be kept and used, but burning is the best way to completely rid of the plant.

“We do recommend that it not be composted because of the risk parts of the plants can survive,” Logan said.

In his short time working with bamboo, Rogan said he’s heard many stories and seen people who just throw discarded rhizomes in a pile in the woods, only to find that they’ve sprouted again.

“It’s very, very resilient, and it does tremendous damage when it gets into stuff,” Rogan said, citing a recent abatement in Bozrah when stalks were growing up the side of a home and pushing shingles off a roof. Rogan said he’s excavated a 60-foot driveway because bamboo had grown underneath and through two-and-a-half inch asphalt. The abatement cost $6,000 all together, he said, and all started when the homeowner innocently purchased a three-dollar plant to decorate her yard.

“People should understand what the consequences are,” he said.

Rogan said he’s seen squabbles between neighbors, and people threatening to bring legal action against each other, just because of the running bamboo and its rapid growth. It’s a growing issue, he said, and people need to be careful.

“If three years ago you told me I’d be talking about bamboo today, I’d call you crazy,” Rogan said. (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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