A new variety of native North American bamboo was discovered this year (March 2007) by botanists in North Carolina. Hill Cane is the third known variety of bamboo indigenous to the continental United States. Arundinaria appalachiana, as botanists like to call it, differs from Switch Cane and River Cane, also native to the American southeast, in that it drops its leaves in the winter.

The global distribution of bamboo

Of the 1,400 or more species of bamboo, native groves of bamboo can be found five continents. It grows everywhere except Europe and Antarctica. The most diverse speciation of bamboo comes from Asia, but South America also has a surprising array of indigenous varieties. Many of the South American bamboo creep into Central America and Mexico. But once you cross the Rio Grande, the bamboo thins out pretty quickly.

In the last century, hundreds of species of bamboo from Asia and South America have been shipped around the world and naturalized in a vast range of habitats. Many of the temperate varieties of Chinese bamboo, especially from the genus Phyllostachys, grow very well in the United States and even into Canada. Mountain bamboo genera like Himalayacalamus and Fargesia also thrive in the cooler climates.

Characteristics of Arundinaria

All three species of the genus Arundinaria come from the warmer parts of the Deep South, east of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio River. Yet these bamboos are especially cold tolerant, hardy down to temperatures well below 0º F. However, they are not the most elegant and attractive as garden ornamentals. The culms are tall, often 20 feet or more, but somewhat thin and lanky, with leaves spread thin.

So don’t expect to find any of these North American bamboo varieties at your local nursery. You might be able to get Arundinaria gigantea (River Cane) from a bamboo specialist. But it’s still a long shot. This particular species, in addition to being very cold hardy, is also unusually tolerant to soggy soil, something that most bamboo cannot endure.

Further reading

To continue learning about this fascinating topic, check out these other blog posts about bamboo in North America and around the world.

FEATURED IMAGES: Botanical drawings of Arundinaria tecta (Switch Cane), which looks almost identical to Arundinaria appalachiana. (Wikipedia)

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