Arts & Culture

River Cane

  • By Leah Hughes
  • Photography Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History

This native reed is worth keeping around, even if just for decoration.

Native North Carolina plant - river cane.

River cane used to work. The tall reeds didn’t just stand along rivers and streams for decoration. The tough but pliable shoots made this native plant a useful material for American Indians. They wove baskets from it, built houses out of it, and crafted blowguns with it.

Those utilitarian works of the past have now become modern crafts and decorations. The double-weave baskets, made by the Cherokee and sturdy enough to carry water from the stream, are now pieces of art. The blowguns, made from dropping hot rocks down inside the reed to burn out the fibers, are artifacts.

When early settlers arrived in North Carolina, they found cane breaks so thick they couldn’t walk through them. Those dense breaks, or stands of cane, aren’t around anymore, but river cane still grows along rivers and swamps. River cane likes to keep its feet wet; its rhizomes stretch easily through the moist soil.

River cane is much more sparse than it used to be, says Mike Schafale, a community ecologist. But it still grows statewide.

Although we now have plastic, wood, and metal materials to work with, we like to keep river cane around. It’s no longer a necessity, but it’s nice.

“Some people say it’s good for nothing but to hold the world together,” Schafale says. “But we kind of like the world to hold together.”

Capital City Crops

River cane and other native plants grow in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.You can find river cane and other native plants growing in downtown Raleigh. Outside the N.C. Museum of History, the “History of the Harvest” exhibit presents the chronological history of agriculture in North Carolina with six different planting beds. You can trace the evolution of plants in this state from early natives, such as river cane and sassafras, to genetically modified crops, such as water-optimized corn.

Leah Hughes is an associate editor at Our State magazine.

This entry was posted in Gardens & Gardening, October 2012 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to River Cane

  1. Bruce Van Deuson says:

    I have a lovely native flute made from river cane in by Tom Minton in Black Mountain. In my conversations with Tom, he told me he has to go to South Carolina to find suitable cane for flute making, because most of what’s left here is too small.

  2. Joe Ros Burns says:

    I enjoyed your article on arundinaria. I wish that the folks who plant non-native bamboo (which is almost invariably an invasive nuisance) would find a plant dealer who sells the aboriginal form of bamboo for NC. As you alluded, it grows into a virtually impenetrable screen, making it ideal for those seeking privacy. Additionally, planting one of the three native species (yes, really, three; the third was confirmed last year) of North American bamboo aids native plant conservation efforts. Non-native bamboo species threaten our NC ecosystem. These introduced plants don’t just compete for resources with native cane plants, they crowd out many other species of plants as well. Their presence reduces the food supply for wildlife but adds no food for native fauna. I passed Eno State Park recently and saw that a large swath of roadside woodlands obliterated by golden bamboo, a Chinese import. I was alarmed to see that even in one of our state preserves, this extremely aggressive bamboo was crowding out native species. It’s time to put the brakes on introduced bamboo species. Plant Native!

Leave a Comment:

Comments are moderated and once approved will appear in the space above. Your name will appear as you provide it in the block below. Your email address will not appear or be shared. Required fields are marked *.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>