Canebrakes: Missouri's Bamboo Forests

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

nothing compared to the large stands that once were common in our region.

Cane Ecology

Cane thickets make great wildlife cover. Indigo buntings, cardinals, hooded warblers, evening grosbeaks, water thrushes and other songbirds use it for refuge from predators. Golden mice, southeastern shrews and other small mammals hide in cane stands, too. Swamp rabbits use canebrakes for cover and food, hence their nickname: canecutters.

At least five species of butterflies - yehl skipper, creole pearly-eye, southern pearly-eye, lace winged roadside skipper and Carolina roadside skipper - need cane for their caterpillar stage. The cane they eat helps fuel their metamorphosis into butterflies. Five newly identified species of moths are known to feed exclusively on cane.

Insects are not the only animals that depend on cane. Swainson's warblers and Bachman's warblers need it to survive. Swainson's warblers migrate to southeast Missouri every spring to nest in our cane stands. They breed and raise their young in cane, and even make their nests from cane leaves. These warblers are now state endangered, partly due to the lack of canebrakes.

Bachman's warblers were even more dependent on cane. Some biologists think that this species could only feed oncane-dwelling insects. Today, the Bachman's warbler is considered extinct.

Human Uses of Cane

Cane is valuable to people, too. After all, who hasn't fished with a cane pole?

Aboriginal American fishermen used cane to make spears and traps. Spears, with three to four prongs for stabbing fish, were used in shallow areas or near weir dams, which were partially made of cane and tree saplings. Fish traps, much like our modern minnow traps, were as often fashioned of cane as any other material.

Cane was also vital to hunting. Before bows and arrows were developed, aboriginal Americans used the atl-atl and its spears. An atl-atl is a device that increased the velocity of a thrown spear. Six-foot sections of cane were straightened with heat, fletched with feathers and attached to a foreshaft. The foreshaft was a hardwood shaft bound to a flint point. The cane shaft was stiff, but flexible enough to spring from the atl-atl. As long as each end was tightly wrapped with sinew, the ends would not split on impact. Atl-atl spears were highly effective hunting tools that were used for centuries until they were all but replaced by the bow and arrow.

Cane made its mark in archery, too. Many tribes crafted

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