This giant timber bamboo grove came over from the neighbours’ yard. My guess it’s been there since the late 1960s, back when a well-known Japanese-Canadian poet lived next door. Recently the neighbours cut down all the stems on their side of the fence, but I am tolerating it on my side because it’s beautiful and acts as a privacy screen. It’s very invasive, though, and has to be fought back every year with shovels, picks and a crow bar. Or pandas. I oscillate from being in love with it to being repelled by it. The roots are creepy in a sci-fi way: they’re strangely fat and juicy and they spread almost supernaturally fast. Above ground the growth is equally obscene, and when the shoots come up in the spring there are lewd comments. I’m letting it travel quite far down my fence for one reason only, and that’s to hide the perennial toxic-green Pert shampoo bottle on the neighbour’s bathroom windowsill. How can four successive sets of next-door tenants have all used Pert? It’s some kind of practical joke. Like bamboo, you can’t kill it. Who uses that sort of smelly radioactive concoction anymore? Really attractive math students, apparently, who smell like Pert. But to return to the story, the bamboo was growing so quickly I decided to see if it was really growing a foot a day, as it’s said to do. To my surprise, it actually was. Not every day – it seems to depend on some kind of combination of sun and rain or something – but on four different days this week the tallest shoot actually grew a total of nearly 13 inches per day. Bamboo World says this is normal. I’m pretty sure the strain of this bamboo is Phyllostachys vivax and while I’d have preferred Japanese madake, which is woodier and grows very straight and vertical rather than leaning toward the sun, this strain of giant bamboo is very pretty too. Apparently the shoots are edible – you just dig down and cut at about 4″ below soil level – and I’m going to try that this weekend with some of the stems I need to control. You have to boil them to neutralize their toxins. If you have a recipe, please send.
On years when it snows heavily, the snow always knocks a few stems over and I sometimes bring them inside. They’re also useful for making fences to keep dogs out of the vegetable garden.
NOTE: Do not try this at home. If you want bamboo, get a clumping variety, not a running variety. If you really want giant bamboo – and unfortunately all giant bamboo strains are invasive running bamboos – get a really big planter or trough. Do your research to make sure the drainage holes won’t allow the roots to break through. They tell you bamboo roots won’t go down more than 18-24″ (roots do prefer to go sideways rather than down) BUT IT IS NOT TRUE. Not true of giant bamboos, anyway. To get around barriers, bamboo roots in my little grove have spread down almost 3′. Don’t underestimate its ability to do whatever it wants. It will get into the foundation of your house, and after spending a day tracking its roots with a shovel, you’ll dream about it at night.
And you can’t poison it. Nothing kills it, not even boiling water. You have to dig it out by hand. When disposing of it, try to kill it first (just dry it out for a few months in a garbage bag) before sending it to the dump or compost facility. Bamboo is so invasive it’s listed as one of the prime dangers to natural forests and ecosystems worldwide. Very noxious introduced species. Be responsible with your bamboo, or your neighbours and everyone else will end up coping with it.