Look out: Something scary could be coming this way | TIDAL LIFE

Boo! Is there a trickster creeping through the neighborhood?


Is there a trickster creeping through the neighborhood?

A soothing sigh lulls us to sleep, then a swish overhead, a rustle at ground level, the hiss of long branches swaying in the night wind. Moon shadows flicker across the ground.

A clack, a clatter, a creak, a scratch. A groan. Silkily slipping past with a dry touch, the bamboo makes a break for freedom. Grab your torches and pitchforks! Stop the monster!

Americans have always sought the new, the different. But not satisfied to experience it there, we want it shipped here. We cage it like the cockatoo, or the red-tipped shark, but we always let it loose eventually.

When the kids quit taking care of the aquarium, the water and aquatic plants go in the storm sewer or the roadside ditch. Whoops, the lake is choked with milfoil.

We also introduce invaders intentionally. The garden center has lovely new plants — English ivy anyone? It’s now listed as a noxious weed here and in Oregon and considered invasive in many states. How about some bamboo? Golden bamboo and other running types are beginning to show up alongside ivy on those invasive species lists. Is bamboo, our beloved background for zen-like sanctuaries, about to throw aside its saintly costume and morph into a nightmare, a demonic horror terrorizing the neighborhood?

Travelers to Asia often come back with an abiding love of this wondrous plant. New uses for bamboo are discovered almost daily. Perhaps it’s the best of all sustainable resources.

But foresters are beginning to notice that here in the Northwest, bamboo that has escaped captivity is doing damage in the landscape. The characteristics that make it so useful and plentiful are exactly those that define an invasive species.

Whoever coined that cold-war term Bamboo Curtain grasped an apt metaphor. The bamboo version lasted longer than the iron one. The plant is strong, dense, ruthless, impenetrable and fast growing. China, blamed for all manner of nefarious doings, from lead in toys to toppling buildings, to buying up U.S. currency and perhaps the insidious importation of bamboo, is poised to fill the role of movie villain for the next few years.

At my house, bamboo is still a good thing; our issues with it are slight. The neighbors have a lovely stand, 30 feet tall. Lucky for us they installed a barrier when they planted. We love it, except during snowstorms when the laden canes lean over against our house and drop their snow loads down our necks and over our deck.

Our own stand of knee-high bamboo is more troublesome. It took forever to establish from a small sprig, but lately it has leapt forth. Now we must diligently lop off its thick, ropy tentacles to keep it in its place.

In Japan bamboo, with its interlocking network of rhizomes, is used for stabilizing steep slopes. Logic would seem to suggest it as a solution to bluff sloughing here. Local slope management experts discourage the idea. There’s just too much risk involved in using any introduced species to solve a problem. Think kudzu in the south, rabbits on San Juan Island, toads, and snakes, and … the list of quick-fix ideas that brought unintended consequences is endless.

Planting running bamboo without protection is asking for trouble. One moment the stuff is behaving demurely, the next it’s going postal.

Our small monster, contained on one side by the aforementioned barrier and on the other by our driveway is, at the moment, manageable. We only need to control the ferocity at the upper and lower edges. But if we didn’t, what might happen?

A writer in British Columbia tells of her battle with the neighbor’s stand of timber bamboo.

“They tell you bamboo roots won’t go down more than 18-24 inches (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 three feet. 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. SEND PANDAS!”

Ah yes, we need cute, fluffy pandas here. What could go wrong?

For more information:

Washington State invasive species list: click here.

Invasive species are a contentious issue. View a pro-Spartina video: click here

Questions or comments for Tidal Life? E-mail: tidallife@whidbey.com.

For the Tidal Life blog — click here and to twitter — click here.

More in Life

Photo by Kira Erickson
Digging 4 Dinner Clamming classes planned

The Sound Water Stewards will teach a series of classes for amateur clammers at Double Bluff Beach.

Photo by Kira Erickson
Colfer closing chapter on career as library manager

Debby Colfer is retiring after 21 years as the manager of the Clinton Library.

Photo provided
Quade, right, sneers at Taylor, Lars Larson's character in the play.
WICA’s ‘Starving Class’ delves into humanity

“Curse of the Starving Class” opened Friday, June 11 and runs through Saturday, June 26.

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News Group
Matias Glass, 4th grade
Students learn about alternative energy sources

Jean Cravy’s SWE class got a hands-on look at three ways to create power without fossil fuels.

"In the Orchard"
Gallery’s June show to feature work of artist Doug Hansen

The theme for Whidbey Art Gallery’s June show is “Recycle: Vision Out-of-the-box.”

Langley resident makes honor roll at Whitworth

Langley resident EZEKIEL PIERSON achieved Provost’s Honor Roll status for the spring… Continue reading

Senior Justin Moberly participates in the parade.
South Whidbey’s class of ’21 celebrates with parade

For a city known for its parades, not much jollification has happened… Continue reading

Widdison, Matthew
Coupeville grad starting residency

Coupeville High School graduate MATTHEW WIDDISON recently graduated from the University of… Continue reading

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Kathy Hawn has had a police scanner for most of her life. She’s gained a following on Facebook for posting what she hears called over the radio.
Woman listens to police scanner so you don’t have to

Kathy Hawn posts all 911 emergency dispatches she hears in her Facebook group, Alert Whidbey 2.0.

Amanda Ferrara poses with ball python Lemon and bearded dragon Drogon. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
Whidbey woman has warm heart for cold-blooded critters

Amanda Ferrara owns 14 scaly friends of her own, each with its own unique personality.

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Charlie Kimmel feeds Silkie rooster Beatbox and some of his feathered friends.
Beatbox is a one-rooster welcoming committee

The friendly rooster resides on a North Whidbey farm.

Pop-up fine fine art markets set for summer, fall

Participating artists must register at least six weeks in advance.