Arundinaria gigantea

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Arundinaria gigantea
Grouping of Arundinaria gigantea at Cane Ridge Meeting House in Kentucky, US

Secure (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Arundinaria
A. gigantea
Binomial name
Arundinaria gigantea
(Walter) Muhl.

Arundinaria gigantea is a species of bamboo known as giant cane (not to be confused with Arundo donax), river cane, and giant river cane. It is endemic to the south-central and southeastern United States as far west as Oklahoma and Texas and as far north as New York. Giant river cane was economically and culturally important to indigenous people, with uses including as a vegetable and materials for construction and craft production. Arundinaria gigantea and other species of Arundinaria once grew in large colonies called canebrakes covering thousands of acres in the southeastern United States, but today these canebrakes are considered endangered ecosystems.[2][3]


This bamboo is a perennial grass with a rounded, hollow stem which can exceed 7 cm (2.8 in) in diameter and grow to a height of 10 m (33 ft). It grows from a large network of thick rhizomes. The lance-shaped leaves are up to 30 cm (12 in) long and 4 cm (1.6 in) wide. The inflorescence is a raceme or panicle of spikelets measuring 4 to 7 cm (1.6 to 2.8 in) in length. An individual cane has a lifespan of about 10 years.[2][4] Most reproduction is vegetative as the bamboo sprouts new stems from its rhizome. It rarely produces seeds and it flowers irregularly. R.S. Cocks[5] writing in 1908, stated that certain clumps of bamboo near Abita Springs, Louisiana had been blooming annually in the latter part of May for nine years.[6] Sometimes it flowers gregariously.[7] Some types of non-native bamboos are confused with this native cane.[8]

Habitat and ecology[edit]

During the last Glacial Maximum, the range of this plant was restricted to a narrow strip along the Gulf Coast. When the ice sheets retreated, it spread northward to its current range.[9]

This native plant is a member of several plant communities today, generally occurring as a component of the understory or midstory. It grows in pine forests dominated by loblolly, slash, longleaf, and shortleaf pine, and stands of oaks, cypress, ash, and cottonwood. Other plants in the understory include inkberry (Ilex glabra), creeping blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), blue huckleberry (Gaylussacia frondosa), pineland threeawn (Aristida stricta), cutover muhly (Muhlenbergia expansa), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and toothache grass (Ctenium aromaticum). Cane communities occur on floodplains, bogs, riparian woods, pine barrens and savannas, and pocosins. It grows easily in flooded and saturated soils.[2]

Cane is considered to be a fire dependent species. Canebrakes are maintained by a fire regime where intervals between burns range from 2–8 years.[10]

Arundinaria gigantea in Natchez, Georgia, US

Giant cane has been documented as providing food and shelter for 70 species, including six butterfly species that depend almost exclusively on it for food.[11] An example of a butterfly that requires cane as a food plant is the southern pearly eye.[8] Canebrakes are an important habitat for the Swainson's, hooded, and Kentucky warblers, as well as the white-eyed vireo. The disappearance of the canebrake ecosystem may have contributed to the rarity and possible extinction of the Bachman's warbler, which was dependent upon it for nesting sites.[2][12] Giant cane was also one of three major sources of food for passenger pigeons, and the disappearance of canebrakes may have helped cause its extinction.[11]

Giant cane may be prevented from growing by invasive plants like quackgrass that spread horizontally, but tall native plants such as big bluestem and ironweed have been reported to have a positive effect.[13]

Arundinaria gigantea at The Botanical Gardens at Asheville, Asheville, North Carolina, US


Canebrakes declined after European settlement of the American southeast. Factors involved in the decline include the introduction of livestock such as cattle, which eagerly graze on the leaves. The cane was considered a good forage for the animals until overgrazing began to eliminate canebrake habitat.[2] Other reasons for the decline include the conversion of the land for agriculture[14] and fire suppression.[15]

Uses and cultural significance[edit]

There are many human uses for the cane. The Cherokee, particularly the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians,[16] use this species in basketry.[17] The Cherokee historically maintained canebrakes with cutting and periodic burning, a practice which stopped with the European settlement of the land.[15] The elimination of cane habitat has nearly resulted in the loss of the art of basketmaking,[16][18] which is important for the economy of the Cherokee today.[19]

The art of river cane basketry is also important to the Choctaw, whose artisans have faced similar problems due to the increasing disappearance of canebrakes.[20] The cane was also used by groups such as the Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw to make medicine, blowguns, bows and arrows, knives, spears, flutes, candles, walls for dwellings,[17] fish traps, sleeping mats, tobacco pipes,[19] and food.[11] River cane is an important symbol of the Choctaw nation because its significance to the nation's history and the numerous ways it provided for the survival of the Choctaw.[21]

In 2022, the Cherokee Nation signed an agreement with the National Park Service to allow collection of 76 culturally important plant species in the Buffalo River National Park in Arkansas, including A. gigantea.[22]

Giant cane is of interest due to its extraordinary capability to reduce both sediment loss and nitrate runoff when planted as a "buffer" between waterways and agricultural fields. A giant cane buffer zone can reduce nitrate pollution in ground water by 99%.[11] Stands of cane are superior even to forests as protective buffers around waterways, absorbing sediment and nitrate pollution and dramatically slowing the rate at which runoff enters the stream or river.[23]


  1. ^ Arundinaria gigantea, Giant cane. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia., NatureServe, 1984, retrieved 15 November 2021
  2. ^ a b c d e Jane E. Taylor (2006). "Arundinaria gigantea In: Fire Effects Information System". U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.
  3. ^ Triplett, J.K.; Weakley, A.S.; Clark, L.G. (2006), "Hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana), a new species of bamboo (Poaceae: Bambusoideae) from the southern Appalachian Mountains" (PDF), Sida, 22 (1): 79–95, archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-30, retrieved 2007-07-14{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Arundinaria gigantea and A. tecta". Grass Manual Treatment. Archived from the original on June 13, 2012.
  5. ^ "Louisiana Botany" website Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  6. ^ Brown, Clair A. “Notes on Arundinaria.” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, vol. 56, no. 6, 1929, pp. 315–18. JSTOR website Retrieved 23 Oct. 2023.
  7. ^ Platt, Steven G.; Brantley, Christopher G.; Rainwater, Thomas R. (2004). "Observations of flowering cane (Arundinacea gigantea) in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina" (PDF). The Proceedings of the Louisiana Academy of Sciences (66): 17–25. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-26.
  8. ^ a b "Arundinaria gigantea | Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants | University of Florida, IFAS". Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  9. ^ Owens, Chelsea (11 February 2021). "Post-Pleistocene Distribution of Arundinaria gigantea in Northeastern Alabama". Jsu Student Symposium 2021.
  10. ^ "Arundinaria gigantea".
  11. ^ a b c d Barret, Richard; Grabowski, Janet; Williams, M.J. "Giant Cane and Other Native Bamboos: Establishment and Use for Conservation of Natural Resources in the Southeast" (PDF). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  12. ^ "Bachman's Warbler". BirdLife International Species Profile.
  13. ^ Campbell, Julian. "Growth of Cane (Arundinaria sensu stricto), the Mysterious Native Bamboo of North America" (PDF).
  14. ^ Dattilo, Adam J.; Rhoades, Charles C. (December 2005). "Establishment of the Woody Grass Arundinaria gigantea for Riparian Restoration" (PDF). Restoration Ecology. 13 (4): 616–622. doi:10.1111/j.1526-100X.2005.00079.x. ISSN 1061-2971. S2CID 86518356.
  15. ^ a b Bugden, Joni L.; Storie, Christopher D.; Burda, Carey L. (2011). "Mapping Existing and Potential River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) Habitat in Western North Carolina". Southeastern Geographer. 51 (1): 150–164. doi:10.1353/sgo.2011.0000. ISSN 1549-6929. S2CID 129900940.
  16. ^ a b Lori Valigra (November 7, 2005), In Cherokee country, reviving a tree's deep roots, National Geographic News, archived from the original on 2012-02-01
  17. ^ a b Arundinaria gigantea. The Native American Ethnobotany Database. Retrieved 03-16-2018.
  18. ^ "WCU helps Cherokee artists harvest natural materials". Western Carolina University Office of Public Relations. November 6, 2008. Archived from the original on 2012-12-15.
  19. ^ a b "Preserving the past: A guide for North Carolina landowners". North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
  20. ^ Fabvssa, Iti. "Makers and Masterpieces: Rivercane basketry at the Smithsonian".
  21. ^ Batton, Gary. "Watonlak Hvshi season is a good time to save the river cane".
  22. ^ "Cherokee Nation, park service reach deal on plant gathering within Buffalo National River". The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 20 April 2022.
  23. ^ "Canebrake Restoration". Retrieved 27 November 2022.