‘Giant Cane’ – Arundo Donax – is an ornamental plant that lives life on the edge of being declared a noxious weed because of its invasive habits along disturbed riparian (riverside) environments as far afield as Europe and California. While its origins are obscure, some claim that it comes from India or perhaps from Mediterranean regions.
In South Australia ‘giant cane’ is just called ‘bamboo’, because that’s what it looks like. It has been cultivated here for many decades by the old Italian market gardeners who grew it for use as tomato stakes and bean poles, among other things. Many of the old homes that had big gardens out the back – including this one – had this cane growing in some obscure corner of the yard from where it was cut at intervals.
In our garden it has grown for the past twenty years behind the old chicken shed; here it has formed an impenetrable thicket growing out of a woody invasive root system that seems impossible to dig out or kill off. The only way to get at the canes is to cut them at the base with the electric chainsaw and drag the long strong hollow poles out of there to be processed somewhere where there is more room.
These poles are 2-3 cms in diameter, light, smooth, strong and up to 3m tall. At the end of each summer they produce feathery flower heads high up, though growth always seems to be via the root system.
The leafy tops are cut off with heavy-duty loppers and any remaining stray side leaves are pulled off by hand. This pile of leaves and twiggy or broken malformed canes is put through the shredder to be recycled as mulch. The mulch goes back under the fruit trees, as it’s splintery stuff and not much fun to walk on.
Arundo donax canes don’t last as long as real bamboo staves but will be good for a year or two before they become too brittle and liable to split when handled. Canes are stored by standing them on end in a corner out of direct sunlight. Leaving them on the ground over winter hastens rotting.
The poles themselves are cable-tied to steel droppers to form a smooth ‘tomato wall’ along either side of my young tomato plants. For many years I built tepee trellis’ or tied tomato plants onto individual jarrah stakes, nipping and pruning the tomato vines in the hope of greater yields. I’ve become convinced however that simply touching tomato plants starts the diseases off that they seem so prone to. These smooth cane fences minimize friction while preventing the vines sprawling into the mulch, while saving much labour in tying and training.