This woody grass or bamboo becomes 4-24' tall. Primary culms
are devoid of leaves below, while above they
have ascending leafy branches. Primary culms are green, terete, hollow,
glabrous, and up to 1" across (rarely more), becoming increasingly
woody below. Secondary culms from lateral branches are similar to the
primary culms, except they are more narrow (less than ¼" across). Most
primary culms remain erect, although sometimes they bend sideways from
the weight of their leaves and lateral branches, particularly when
there is an absence of support from adjacent vegetation. Alternate
evergreen leaves develop toward the apex of the primary culm and along
its lateral branches. The blades of these leaves are 5-12"
long, ¾-1½" across, and medium green; they are narrowly
lanceolate to elliptic
in shape and entire (smooth) along their margins, except for minute
teeth. The leaf blades are glabrous to nearly glabrous along their
upper surfaces, while their lower surfaces are glabrous to sparsely
short-pubescent. The leaf blades have a tessellated appearance as a
result of the smaller cross-veins that interconnect the parallel veins.
The petioles of the leaves are short and slender (usually less than ¼"
in length). Leaf sheaths are glabrous to sparsely short-pubescent,
except toward their apices, where bristly hairs occur.
bamboo species, Giant Cane rarely flowers. When this occurs, either
racemes or simple panicles of
spikelets are produced from the apex of the primary culm and fertile
lateral branches. Unlike sterile lateral branches (as described above),
fertile lateral branches produce either bladeless sheaths or sheaths
with rudimentary blades. Individual spikelets are 1¼-2½" long and 8 mm.
(1/3") across, consisting of a pair of glumes at the bottom and 2
overlapping ranks of 6-14 lemmas above. The smaller glume is 2-6 mm.
long, while the larger glume is 8-12 mm. long. The lemmas are 15-24 mm.
long and keeled along their outer sides, tapering to acute tips or
short awns (the latter up to 4 mm. in length). Individual grains are
long and ellipsoid in shape. The blooming period occurs during the
spring or summer. The florets of the spikelets are cross-pollinated by
wind. Individual plants bloom only once when they are 10-20 years old,
after which they die down. The
root system produces long rhizomes, from which clonal
colonies of plants are produced. This is the main method of
The preference is partial to full sun, wet to moist conditions, and
fertile soil consisting of loam or silty loam. However, this woody
grass can adapt to areas that are more shady and dry, where its
growth will be stunted. Periods of standing water are readily
tolerated. The size of individual plants can vary considerably
depending on their age and environmental conditions. Northern ecotypes
of this grass can tolerate temperatures to -10º F. Under favorable
conditions, it can spread aggressively via its rhizomes. Seed viability
is low, and seedlings develop slowly (typically 1' tall after 3 years).
Giant Cane is native to southern
Illinois, where it is
occasional. Illinois lies along the northern
range limit of this species. Populations of this grass within the state
have declined as a result of development, and large colonies (or
canebrakes) have become uncommon. Habitats include bottomland
woodlands, flood-prone flatwoods, swamps and edges of swamps, low areas
along rivers, bottoms and lower slopes of rocky canyons, and
gravelly seeps. While fire will top-kill individual plants of Giant
Cane, it is able to regenerate new plants from its extensive rhizomes.
Occasional wildfires are beneficial in maintaining populations
of this grass if
they reduce competition from trees and large shrubs.
Some native insects are obligate feeders on
and perhaps other Arundinaria
These insects feeders include
several leafhoppers (Arundanus
the caterpillars of such skippers and butterflies as Amblyscirtes
(Cobweb Roadside Skipper), Amblyscirtes carolina
Roadside Skipper), Amblyscirtes
(Reversed Roadside Skipper),
(Yehl Skipper), Enodia
(Creole Pearly Eye), and
(Southern Pearly Eye). A snout moth,
, also feeds on Giant Cane by forming webs
around its leaves. Giant Cane also provides cover and it is a source of
food for several vertebrate animals. The young culms and leaves are
readily consumed by cattle, horses, sheep, deer, beavers, and even
black bears because they are high in protein, calcium, phosphorus, and
other nutrients. The large seeds of Giant Cane were occasionally
eaten by the extinct Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet. Colonies
of Giant Cane (or
canebrakes) provide the preferred habitat of the uncommon Canebrake
Rattlesnake (a subspecies of the Timber Rattlesnake) and this habitat
also attracts Copperhead and Cottonmouth snakes. Canebrakes also
provide the preferred nesting habitat of the uncommon Swainson's
Warbler and the now extinct Bachman's Warbler. It is thought that the
decline of large canebrakes played a role in the extinction of the
latter warbler. The Meadow Vole, Golden Mouse, and other small rodents
also inhabit this kind of habitat.
A swampy woodland in Johnson County
of southern Illinois.
Giant Cane is the tallest grass in Illinois, and it is the
only bamboo that is native to the state. Amerindians used this woody
grass for a variety of purposes, including the construction of
buildings, blow guns, mats, and baskets. European settlers used it to
make fishing poles, chair bottoms, shuttles, and musical instruments.
The large hollow culms and fibrous leaves of older plants have a
distinctive appearance that can't be confused with other grasses in the