The War of the Weeds

On Facebook on the 4th, from Michael Siemon in Oakland CA, photos of rampant golden bamboo and common ivy in his backyard jungle. Amanda Walker wondered if they could be pitted against one another. The ensuing exchange:

Michael Siemon: They are fighting it out with salvia and ferns for total control of the back yard, down to Temescal Creek. We keep all of them (mostly!) cut back beyond the small path around the back of the house…

Arnold Zwicky: In back of the downtown Palo Alto Library (across the street from my house) this variety of bamboo, incredibly aggressive ivy, and trees of heaven (ailanthus) are warring on the fence line with the property to the south. More than a little scary.

Ailanthus and common ivy are known to be allelopathic (chemically inhibiting the growth of other plants) and golden bamboo is suspected of being so.

Now for some pictures.

(#1) Siemonian golden bamboo up close

(#2) Siemonian ivy up close

(#3) Weed City, Palo Alto: bamboo, ivy, and ailanthus

(#4) Weed City, Palo Alto: mostly bamboo and ailanthus

The villains. English, or common, ivy (Hedera helix)  has come up a number of times on this blog and appears in many pictures of my front patio. It’s a fast-growing, incredibly sturdy vine that can cover almost any horizontal or vertical surface and climb up 100 ft. or more. It can, however, be kept within bounds by regular pruning and (if necessary) uprooting.

Then there’s Ailanthus altissima, tree of heaven, covered in a section of a 8/30/15 posting of mine:

[Wikipedia]In a number of [areas], it has become an invasive species due to its ability both to colonise disturbed areas quickly and to suppress competition with allelopathic chemicals. It is considered a noxious weed in Australia, the United States, New Zealand and many countries of central, eastern and southern Europe. The tree also resprouts vigorously when cut, making its eradication difficult and time consuming.

It also smells foul, and it’s not especially pretty. Despite all that, there was some fashion for planting it as a city street tree, because it’s so very tough. My god, is it tough!

There is one absolutely gigantic ailanthus across the street from me (probably the progenitor of all the rest), with ivy climbing up its trunk almost to the top.

But of these three the worst is surely the bamboo Phyllostachys aurea. From Wikipedia:

Phyllostachys aurea is a bamboo species of the ‘running bamboo’ type, belonging to the diverse Bambuseae tribe [of the grass family Poaceae]. It is native to Fujian and Zhejiang in China. It is commonly known by the names fishpole bamboo, golden bamboo, monk’s belly bamboo and fairyland bamboo (Australia).

Phyllostachys aurea is cultivated as an ornamental plant for gardens. In the United States, it is considered an invasive species that crowds out native species and is difficult to remove. It is the most commonly cultivated bamboo in the United States

An extraordinarily fast-growing plant, it spreads by underground runners (which can easily stretch 4 or 5 ft, sometimes more) and forms dense impenetrable screens that overwhelm almost all other plants (this effect is so strong that it’s hard to tell whether the plant is actually allelopathic). Almost any small portion of a root will grow into a new plant, so that a sane and thoughtful gardener will grow the plant only in an impenetrable container.

It is a pretty plant, so you can see why its popular. But still…

Bamboos in general do produce seed, but only very infrequently, like every 50-100 years, and then in a few years all over the world at the same time. The golden bamboo across the street from me might conceivably have been seeded from (properly containerized) stands of the plant in the neighborhood. Or — I shudder to think — it might have been intentionally planted by the library staff.

I’m hoping that the width of a two-lane city street is a sufficient barrier to the roots of the bamboos (which have advanced almost to the sidewalk across the street). If not, they’ll turn up in the strip along my side of the street, where the crape myrtle trees grow, and in amongst the, yes, ivy on my patio. Another shudder.

Bonus: The War of the Worlds. The title of this posting is, of course, a little play on the title of a famous book and its offspring in other media. From Wikipedia:

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells first serialised in 1897 in the UK by Pearson’s Magazine and in the United States by Cosmopolitan magazine. The novel’s first appearance in hardcover was in 1898 from publisher William Heinemann of London. Written between 1895 and 1897, it is one of the earliest stories that detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race.

The War of the Worlds has spawned seven films, as well as various radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, video games, a television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors.

(#5) Scene from Steven Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds

Among the most famous, or infamous, adaptations is the 1938 radio broadcast that was narrated and directed by Orson Welles. The first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a news bulletin and is often described as having led to outrage and panic by some listeners who had believed the events described in the program were real. However, later critics point out that the supposed panic seems to have been exaggerated by newspapers of the time seeking to discredit radio as a source of information.

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