Buncombe County parks are great spots to stay active, connect with nature, and make new friends. They’re also home to thousands of plants, pollinators, and wildlife, fueling our local ecosystem. One way Recreation Services is leading the way to protect native plants and engage the community in sustainability is through river cane propagation.
Working with nonprofit partners such as Asheville GreenWorks, MountainTrue, and RiverLink, this hearty and beautiful bamboo grass is making a comeback. Next time you see a sign posted in a protected propagation area, know that local residents are helping restore canebrakes along streams, creeks, and rivers through a labor-intensive process.
River cane (Arundinaria gigantean) was historically very important to both humans and wildlife in the North Carolina mountains. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians traditionally split it lengthwise and made coverings for the walls of their houses by strapping the long halves parallel. They also fashioned woven baskets and fire-forged darts out of the abundant river cane to fell birds with blow guns.
Researchers estimate that nearly 98% of canebrakes – or large contiguous areas of river cane – have been lost since European settlers arrived in western North Carolina. The re-establishment of natural canebrakes is important to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, as it reinforces their cultural heritage and provides supplies for beautiful and useful crafts.
In ecological terms, river cane was historically abundant in western North Carolina, reaching heights of up to 39 feet. However, following agricultural development, canebrakes – which occur in rich, bottomland areas – were nearly destroyed as their natural habitat was converted to farmland. These past forests supported plentiful fauna, including several wildlife species now extinct such as Bachman’s warbler, the Passenger pigeon, and the Carolina parakeet.
River cane riparian areas help reduce nitrogen and phosphorus from our waterways. Thirty feet of river cane reduces these elements from entering streams and rivers through surface and ground water run-off by as much as 80%, proving this hardy and beautiful grass has both cultural and ecological value.
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