HARTFORD, Conn. — While bamboo can evoke images of tranquillity, munching pandas and eco-friendly flooring, an aggressive variety has wreaked havoc on some homeowners and prompted state and local governments to consider holding those who plant the fast-growing bamboo accountable for any damage it may cause.
Connecticut’s General Assembly is one of the latest governmental bodies to pass legislation regulating the plant, which is considered a relatively fast and inexpensive way to grow a thick green privacy screen.
A new state law that takes effect Oct. 1 addresses so-called running bamboo – essentially bamboo varieties in the genus Phyllostachys, including yellow groove. Connecticut’s law makes people who plant, or allow running bamboo to be planted on their property, liable for any damages caused to a neighboring property. That liability includes the cost of removing of the plant, which can run into the thousands of dollars. Running bamboo can grow up to 40 feet tall. It boasts roots that can extend 20 feet annually and that have been described as having the strength of steel.
“It goes through 6 inches of asphalt with no problem at all. It’s coming up through city streets,” said Theresa Groff, a retired nurse from Preston who is a plant enthusiast and has dedicated herself to chronicling infestations and trying to help affected homeowners.
“People are not aware of how invasive this plant is,” she said. “Some people have said, ‘I like it. It’s pretty.’ That’s fine. But you keep it on your property.”
Connecticut’s new law also requires anyone who plants the bamboo to do so at least 100 feet from an abutting property or public right-of-way. Failure to comply could result in a $100 fine. The new law also requires people who sell and install the running bamboo to educate customers about its growing habits and recommend ways to contain it. Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and UConn are holding a session for municipal staff on Aug. 20 at Milford Town Hall to train them about the new law, the status of bamboo in the state, the types of bamboo and ways to control it.
Public officials elsewhere in the U.S. have embraced similar legislation. In April, the town of Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island passed a law prohibiting residents from planting any new running bamboo. They’re also required to contain their existing plants or face financial penalties. In Brick, N.J., a 2011 local ordinance identifies bamboo as an invasive plant that must be controlled by property owners. If they don’t comply, the township is allowed to remove the plant and bill the property owner.
While Susanne Lucas, a horticulturalist from Plymouth, Mass., and a member of the American Bamboo Society, said she understands efforts to make property owners accountable for their bamboo, she believes some of the laws are excessive, such as outright bans and Connecticut’s required 100-foot setback.
Lucas said people need to know how to care for the bamboo and keep the roots in check by digging a trench every year or two around the area where the roots should be confined and then pull the roots up “almost like pulling an extension cord.”
“It’s not that difficult to maintain if you understand how the plant grows,” she said.
Despite Connecticut’s new law, there are efforts to pass even stricter local ordinances across the state.
Robin Arcarese, of Bozrah, helped her town become the first in Connecticut to pass a bamboo ordinance in February. Like the New Jersey ordinance, it allows the town to remove uncontrolled running bamboo if the property owner refuses to address the problem. The property owner is then billed for the removal cost.
On a spring day in 2012, Arcarese noticed something green and spiky growing under her siding, poking out near the roof of her garage. It was her neighbor’s running bamboo that had been planted about seven years earlier, about 5 or 6 feet from the property line. Months later, a backhoe was used to dig down 2 feet to remove bamboo-infested dirt, which was hauled away.
Arcarese, who watches daily for any signs of the bamboo returning, has a warning for people buying a house.
“Make sure they asked that question,” she said. “Has there ever been bamboo? Is there bamboo? And does the town have an ordinance?”