Bamboo in Florida

Les Harrison Extension Director Emeritus UF
IFAS Special to The Star
The Star

Temperatures are at the discomfort level and social distancing is on everyone’s mind. That summer feeling of needing relief from the heat and humidity is growing in every corner of Gulf County.

For the young, and the young at heart, one of the traditional past times is to spend idle hours fishing under the shade of an oak. While there are many complex and sophisticated options today for fishing gear, there was a time when all that was needed was a cane pole, some line, a float, and bait.

Even in the halcyon days of a simpler past, summer chores with the lawn still interrupted the priority summer activities like fishing. Curiously, both these undertakings involve members of the same plant family Poaceae or grasses.

Bamboo is the tallest grass in north Florida. There are more than 700 species of bamboo worldwide, ranging in height from 12 inches to 100 feet or more in ideal growing conditions.

In the U.S., only two species occur naturally (Arundinaria gigantea and A. tecta). Neither of these two plants is used for human food, but other bamboos are a dietary staple or flavoring condiments in Asia and Africa.

Bamboo holds two impressive records in the plant kingdom. In addition to being the largest perennial grass on the planet, it can be the fasted growing plant under the right environmental condition.

It has been deliberately propagated and used as an ornamental plant for many years in Florida and other locations. The wide variety of colors and shades combined with the exotic shaped and delicate leaves add to the landscaping appeal.

Generally speaking, the two native bamboos are not extremely weedy and are relatively easy to manage. However, there are scores of imported bamboos which are highly invasive and exceedingly difficult to contain in a limited area.

The most common invasive bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) is commonly known as fishing pole or golden bamboo. It was imported into this country in the 1880’s as an ornamental, being popular as a cold-hearty and quick growing privacy screen.

Because of its weight and relative strength it became an inexpensive and popular source of cane fishing poles. Curiously, bamboo fly-fishing rods are usually made from a less common, but stronger bamboo species native to China.

This and other invasive bamboo varieties have large and complex underground root systems called rhizomes. These shallow roots maintain the plant’s viability by storing and distributing large volumes of nutrients.

Once an invasive bamboo is established the root system supports rapid growth and expansion. Other plants are quickly overwhelms and pushed out.

To control these invasive varieties, the entire rhizome network must be exhausted and killed. This makes control of bamboo expensive, intensive, time consuming and difficult.

Being a grass bamboo easily tolerates occasional cutting, but regular and intensive shearing is much more effective for destroying this plant. The mowing frequency is similar to that used on home lawns if success is to be achieved.

The removal of the plant’s above-ground portion is required to deplete the rhizomes and control or eliminate the population. It usually takes one or two seasons of rigorous clipping before control is achieved.

So it is easy to justify the activity of fishing with a cane pole since it removes an invasive plant from Gulf County and makes it easy to social distance. Sceptics may not accept the rationalization to occupy idle hours, but does it really matter?

To learn more about controlling exotic bamboos in Port St. Joe, Wewahitchka and other parts of north Florida, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: