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September 2008 Rivercane

 Rivercane is found on the Greenway on the Old Airport Trail in a fairly large stand. Prior to European settlement cane communities covered thousands of acres. Native American populations used fire to encourage the cane growth, as cane needs sunlight and cannot develop well under a forest canopy. It likes to grow where water is available but cannot stand wet feet. It is not often found at elevations above 2200 feet, though there is a species called Mountain Cane (Arundinaria appalachiana) that may be found along mountain trails usually as single plants about 2 feet high.

Early peoples found many uses for the stiff, woody canes in storage baskets , spears, arrows, blowguns, fish traps, mats, flutes and tobacco pipes. Shelters could be formed by the long poles.

Later peoples found the young cane nutritious fodder for grazing animals, and for light fences. Mature cane became vital for baskets as exchange items.

Canebrakes provide habitat for all sorts of wildlife for cover, food and nesting. The dense stands break up flood waters and spread out the destructive forces, thereby curbing erosion. The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee has begun a project with the Cherokee by establishing rivercane plantings on their Otto lands in the hopes of supplying the Cherokee with strong mature cane for their native basket making.

Agricultural practices have all but eliminated the native rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea), but invasive species are all too ready to take over. One of these is the Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) from Asia which can be found along many roads in Macon County . This bamboo is more bushy, with alternate leaves 3 to 10 inches long with parallel veins. The stems, called culms, are woody like the native Cane, but have a distinctive channel or flattened area, above each leaf attachment that runs up the stem to the next leaf node. Nodes are solid inside, with the internodes being hollow. Native cane has softer nodes at the joints, which allows for easier working into blowguns and other tube-like needs. Both plants have persistent sheaths that drop off in the fall. Golden Bamboo may grow to 40 feet tall when mature.

Flowering is spotty and infertile, as these canes reproduce along their underground stems, called rhisomes, making close compact growth. The culms seem to die back every 7 to 10 years after flowering.

A similar plant is the giant reed (Arundo donax) whose 20 foot culms make plumes of flowers in the fall. Each stem dies back in the fall but often remains standing until new spring growth. The culms are cornlike with the leaves clasping the stem. This, too, is an imported plant mostly for ornamental uses, but can become invasive, also. It is wise to investigate the origin of plants and their growth habits of things you would plant around your home so you are not spending time and money trying to eradicate them 5 to 10 years later.

Our Water Feature will be shut down within a week as we have had to return various parts to the manufacturer. We hope this will give us time to be ready for your children next spring. We know it's extremely popular. Thanks for your patience during the past few weeks.