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Canebrakes: Missouri's Bamboo Forests

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

well known for its finely crafted cane baskets decorated with walnut stain.

Indians also used a bow and cane drill with sand to drill holes in rocks and to make atl-atl weights and other useful tools. The spinning cane and sand particles performed like a high speed grinding wheel to drill smooth, perfect holes.

Cane sometimes worked as the drill chuck to hold thin flint chips that could drill tiny holes.

The Natchez Indians used carefully shaped and heat-treated cane knives for removing body hair and cutting vegetables. Great Plains tribes, such as the Mandan, also made cane knives and scrapers. Because the Mandan did not live near natural patches of cane, they are thought to have procured it by trade.

Cane was also used to make flutes, pipes, decorations, games and ceremonial bonfires. Flutes were drilled with flint tips.

Cane also provided food. Tender new shoots made good stew additives or garnished salads. Tribal women watched for the infrequent flowering of cane and gathered the seeds for cooking in summer. Cane leaves also attracted elk, deer and, especially, bison, making a canebrake a great hunting spot.

Today, we use cane to reduce erosion, camouflage duck blinds and fashion cane poles, its uses are diminished in the face of more modern materials, but its versatility is indisputable.

If you have a cane patch on your property, consider allowing it to survive or encourage its spread. Protecting and conserving cane is very important for wildlife and can control soil erosion. Cane roots and rhizomes can be transplanted with relative success. You may consider planting cane near a creek or bottomland field or plant it for ornamental purposes.

Be aware of cane's ability to spread underground. Sinking landscape timbers around yard plantings can provide an underground barrier. Cane is important to wildlife, a part of our heritage, and something we all should consider conserving.

Cane Cutting Tips

  • Ask permission before cutting or digging on private land.
  • Do not over cut a patch. Leave some for wildlife and for your future use.
  • Digging and cutting river cane on public land, managed by MDC, is not allowed.
  • Growing river cane
  • Cane can be grown as an ornamental in southern Missouri. Freezing limits northern planting.
  • It is green all year.
  • This bamboo can be aggressive, so be prepared to limit underground runners with a barrier or trimming. Eating the new shoots is a great option for control.
  • Dig rhizomes for transplant. Use caution as dug rhizomes dry out quickly.
  • Plant in rich soils with full to partial sun.

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