Scientific name: Arundinaria gigantea
What: seeds, young shoots
Where: river banks above high-water level
When: early spring through summer
Nutritional Value: small amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and vitamin C
Other uses: fishing poles, lattice structures, blow guns
Dangers: beware of deadly purple Ergot fungus.
Closeup of stem.
Edible tips (peel off and discard the leaves).
Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Once thick canebrakes used to be found along many Texas streams where they formed their own distinctive ecosystems. Over-grazing by cattle, who love the leaves, along with other habitat destruction has greatly reduced these canebrakes, leading to the loss of certain species of warblers which nested exclusively in the safety of these bamboo stands. Their scientific name suggests that this bamboo can grow to gigantic sizes but in truth they rarely get over ¾” thick and more than 9’ tall.
Tender river cane shoots of any size can be eaten raw or used in stir-fries and other Asian-style dishes. Firmly grab the top of the cane and pull. Usually whatever comes off is tender enough to eat but nibble the bottom end to make sure it isn’t too hard or fibrous. Peel off and discard the leaves or use them to weave tiny baskets. I like the youngest shoots, less than three inches tall growing from what looks like clumps of grass.
River cane makes excellent fishing poles. They were also used by Native Americans to make baskets, arrows and blowguns. Some of you more mature seedlings probably received a whack or two from a rivercane after misbehaving.
River cane is slightly susceptible to ergot fungal infections. Closely examine any river cane for signs of a purple powdery substance before harvesting, especially during rainy summers following very cold winters. Ergot poisoning can lead to hallucinations followed by death. I have yet to find any river cane infected with ergot, but I still keep an eye out for this fungus.
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