Thursday, 10 May 2012

Arundinaria, commonly known as the canes, is the sole genus of bamboo native to South Africa [1] and eastern North America and the only temperate bamboo in North America. The genus is endemic to the eastern United States from New Jersey south to Florida and west to Ohio and Texas. Within this region they are found from the Coastal Plain to medium elevations in the Appalachian Mountains. Its members have running rhizomes and are woody and tree-like, attaining heights from 0.5 up to 8 metres. They produce seeds only rarely and usually reproduce vegetatively, forming large genets. When seed production does occur, the colony usually dies afterwards. Among the distinctive features of the canes is a fan-like cluster of leaves at the top of new stems called a top knot.

The genus Arundinaria has a complex taxonomic history spanning over two centuries. The canes of the southeastern U.S. were originally described as two species of reed grasses in the genus Arundo by Thomas Walter in 1788. André Michaux, working in 1803 and unaware of Walter's work, correctly interpreted the canes as a distinct group and created the genus Arundinaria with one species. However, neither of these researchers left enough information to their successors, leading to confusion surrounding the identity of the species they had described. The later workers G.H.E. Muhlenberg and A.S. Hitchcock each changed the circumscriptions of the species within the group, but it wasn't until epitypes, type specimens that clarify older ambiguous names, were applied to Walter's and Michaux's species in 2009 that the taxonomy could be stabilised. Meanwhile, many similar Asian and even African bamboos were placed in this genus under a very broad concept for the group.

Preliminary phylogenetic studies in 2006 using molecular and morphological evidence have suggested that the genus forms three natural species confined to the southeastern United States.

Early explorers in the U.S. described vast monotypic stands of Arundinaria called canebrakes that were especially common in river lowlands. These often covered hundreds of thousands of hectares. These have declined significantly due to clearing, farming and fire suppression. Prior to the European colonization of the Americas, cane was an extremely important resource for local Native Americans. The plant was used to make everything from houses and weapons to jewelry and medicines. It was used extensively as a fuel, and parts of the plant were eaten. The canebreaks also provided ideal land for crops, habitat for wild game, and year-round forage for livestock. After colonisation, cane lost its importance due to the destruction and decline of canebreaks, forced relocation of indigenous people, and the availability of superior technology from abroad.

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