Giant Cane

Giant Cane  Arundinaria gigantea (FACW)


Our firm is beginning the concept design work for a stream restoration project in Glen Burnie, Anne Arundel County, Maryland.  While in the field Dave Knorr noticed a plant that he thought may be a rare, threatened or endangered (RTE) plant species, and asked that I confirm.  Yes, Dave found a 45-foot by 20-foot aggregate of Giant Cane, a Maryland State Rare (S2) grass species.  This is Maryland’s native bamboo, and 144 records are on file with Maryland Biodiversity, with occurrences in seven counties, and all but two on the coastal plain.  Maryland represents the northernmost extent of this plant species, with South Carolina representing the central hub for the species, which can form extensive canebrakes.

Dave and I have both seen this plant once before at a site in Fort Meade, Odenton, Maryland, along a tributary of the Little Patuxent River.


The aggregate was found on a nontidal creek, on mapped Fallsington sandy loam (FaaA) soils, northern coastal plain, 0 to 2% slopes, along a poorly drained, nonsaline headwater, riverine intermittent drainageway, with a water table at near the surface to 10-inches below.  Associate riparian forest trees included red maple, river birch, mulberry, southern red oak, poison ivy, common greenbriar and copious amounts of English ivy and Asiatic bittersweet.


Giant Cane is a woody perennial from hard, tough rhizomes, forming open to dense colonies.  The slender stems are 3-25 ft. tall, at first unbranched, later branching and forming fanlike clusters.  Basal leaves and those on primary branches are short and narrow; upper leaves are longer and wider.  Giant cane spreads both by creeping branched rhizomes which send up new aerial stems and floating rhizome segments that spread by water current to new locations.


Hard (woody), rigid stems (culms) rise to 5-12’ tall, but will grow to as much as 25’ tall in warm winter areas (USDA Zones 8-9).  Coarse, lance-shaped, medium green leaves to 12” long and to 1.5” wide are evergreen in warm winter locations, but may die from sub-zero temperatures in Maryland.


Alternate evergreen leaves develop toward the apex of the primary culm (stem) 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 (smooth, free of hairs) to nearly glabrous along their upper surfaces, while their lower surfaces are glabrous to sparsely short-pubescent.


The leaf blades have a tessellated (checkered mosaic) 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 the apex, where bristly hairs occur.


Arundinaria gigantea tends to occur along or in the floodplains of moving bodies of water such as streams or rivers.  Habitats include bottomland woodlands, flood-prone flatwoods, swamps and edges of swamps, low areas along rivers, bottoms and gravelly seeps.


The plant 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 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).  This bamboo has rather a ragged look, especially at the end of winter.  Individual canes have an estimated life span of 10-years, and may only flower every 40-years.



The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Croinquist’s Manual, Noel Holmgren, 1998

Flora of Virginia, Weakley, Ludwig & Townsend, 2012

Identifying Native Bamboos, University of South Carolina, Margaret Cirtain, South Carolina Native Plant Society, Winter 2010 (attached)  winter_2010

The Distribution of Cane, Henderson State University, Arkansas Academy of Science Proceedings, Daniel Marsh, 1977 (attached)  v31a23

Diagnostic Giant Cane Photographs, University of Florida, Ann Murray, 2001