Bamboo - Why should knotweed get all the publicity?

There’s more than one plant capable of causing damage to buildings and Bamboo is certainly one that is emerging from the shadows of Japanese knotweed. So why then does Japanese knotweed get all the publicity?

Do you remember ‘Bamm-Bamm’, the destructive yet super-cute baby boy in the Flintstones? Apple of their eyes, he was a constant source of joy and frustration for Betty and Barney Rubble. I was wondering if the Hanna Barbera production team had bamboo in mind when they gave him that name because this family of grasses are a cut off the same cloth – cute/desirable and yet destructive!

(* a bonus point if you can remember his best friend’s name – Fred & Wilma’s daughter…?).

Why does knotweed get all the publicity?

There are lots of similarities between Japanese knotweed and bamboo; Asiatic rhizomatous perennials, fast growing, tolerant of a wide range of conditions and possessing attractive foliage. But at a botanical level, they could not be more different. Monocot/Dicot – both flowering plants but evolutionarily distinct for approximately 200 million years – this is reflected not only in flower and seed structure but leaf shape/venation, stomatal structure and even how (some) fix CO2! [Ed: that’s enough botany Pete…].

So, given the Victorian’s love of exotic plants, why is it that we are only talking about bamboo now whereas the invasive impacts of Japanese knotweed have been in the public eye for at least 40 years or so? Could it be that the rhizomes are less regenerative? No, they are pretty similar although the internodal distances in bamboo rhizomes can be quite long so you might need more than 0.7g!

Could it be that Japanese knotweed is faster growing? No again, some bamboos have growth rates that are in the Guinness book of records! The varieties chosen for the garden supply chain are well adapted to our temperate climate (although the majority of bamboos are tropical) so there isn’t much of a difference there either.

The problem is Bamboo is widely available for sale!

In fact, it seems the only reason bamboo is getting news headlines now is that a lot less of it was planted by the Victorians/Edwardians (who presumably preferred the knotweed flowers). The increased incidence of ‘problem’ bamboo colonies today seems to be that it became something of a design ‘style’ for garden makeover programmes in the 80’s (and this has continued since). You’d think that given this is fairly common knowledge (we have been saying so since the Chelsea flower show back in 2018), we would have introduced regulations to prohibit the sale of certain varieties (the ‘running’ types especially), but NO!

Unlike Japanese knotweed, bamboos are still widely available for sale and you do not even need to go to a specialist nursery to find them. DIY centres have large areas given over to bamboo displays and the point-of-sale information provided, whilst highlighting its tendency to spread, is otherwise over-optimistic that simple containment measures will keep it under control. If I may paraphrase a classic movie, “No one puts bamboo in the corner”!

The talents and challenges of Bamboo…

So, we think, with spring on its way (although you wouldn’t think so with the current weather) it is a timely moment to start an awareness campaign emphasising that bamboo, whilst not listed in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act, is as much a nuisance as many that are listed (invasive plants) – and more than capable of causing the same type of disruptive impact as Japanese knotweed.

The PCA hopes to produce a Guidance Note in due course as bamboo management requires a slightly different approach to Japanese knotweed, but if you want to get the most up-to-date and comprehensive guidance, there is a new book out now from Packard Publishing: “Invasive Bamboos: Their impact and management” written by PCA members Brian Taylor, Jim Glaister and Max Wade.

Covering the botany bits (taxonomy, physiology, ecology) and based on years of practical experience as well, this could be the publication that broadens the industry’s understanding and appreciation of both the remarkable talents of the plant as well as its challenges (Ed: Full book review to follow in a few weeks time). Bamm-Bamm would definitely have chosen it for his garden!

* answer: Pebbles (no prizes, just a warm glow of self-congratulation)

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