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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - August 25, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Texas native bamboo vs. non-native for hedge.
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Why is Mr. Smarty Plants so against bamboo when there is a native American/Texan bamboo and an active bamboo society in the Austin area? I live in Central East Austin and I need the cheapest, fastest and densest screening plant, native to Texas, there is because I have 150' to plant across my back property line. I am thinking about river cane or switch cane because the wax myrtles I've planted don't maintain their denseness as they grow. (I am about to head to the Bamboo Society Meeting at Zilker to learn more from the speakers and vendors.)

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants is not against bamboo, per se.  He is, however, very unhappy when he sees non-native bamboo taking over wild habitats.  Since you're in Central Texas, you can easily see an example of a non-native Phyllostachys aurea that has completely engulfed the banks of parts of Bear Creek in south Austin.  Other waterways in the area have been similarly affected and the problem is spreading.  Mr. Smarty Plants is not alone in his concern about non-native bamboos.  There is an excellent article on the problems associated with non-native bamboos in the April/May 2008 issue of The Grapevine, an online publication of the Williamson County (Texas) Native Plant Society.  In fairness, not all non-native bamboos are invasive.  Mr. Smarty Plants is only concerned about the species that are rampant spreaders (running types) and are cold hardy.  In South Florida, the list of problem species may be long - less so in Central Texas.

You are right that Arundinaria giganteaknown as Giant Cane, Canebreak or River Cane, is a US native species.  A riparian species, its native range extends across the American Southeast and far into East Texas, but not quite as far west as Austin.  Depending on how you classify the bamboos, A. gigantea is either the only native species or one of only three native American bamboo species.  While it forms thickets along river and creek banks, it does not form the impenetrable masses of culms that Phyllostachys species are famous for.

You might try Arundinaria gigantea as a screen.  If your soil stays moist enough, it might work just as you'd like.  However, if the soil along the back of your property is consistently dry, you might try another plant.  Eastern Red-cedar, Juniperus virginiana makes a nice screen on dry soils if planted close together.  Also, Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, will form a dense, evergreen hedge in your area.

 

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