Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thinning bamboos, with itchy consequences

In the backyard we have a small shaded garden bed that is dominated by a chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa), a clumping mountain bamboo with culms that turn dark brown in the sun and leaves that are the very definition of elegance. In front of this bamboo is a 3-foot tall granite lantern that adds to the Asian feel of this space.

Like most bamboos, Borinda fungosa is a vigorous grower when happy—and ours clearly is happy. The culms grew so heavy with new leaves this summer that they were drooping forward, almost completely obscuring the lantern. That was my cue to do some trimming.

120901_Borinda-fungosa_before2

Chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa) before its haircut

120901_Borinda-fungosa_after2

Chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa) after its haircut

 

I removed some of the thinnest culms which were leaning the most, and I also trimmed a few thicker culms that were loaded down under the weight of the leaves.

Here is another before-and-after view:

120901_Borinda-fungosa_before

Before

120901_Borinda-fungosa_after

After

I could have gone for a more radical shearing, but since this spot is highly visible from the dining room, I prefer a gentler approach even if it means that I need to do more trimming later in the year.

I had also planned on tackling our two Alphonse Karr bamboos (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’), which desperately need some attention. However, after finishing work on the Borinda fungosa, I noticed red welts on my arms that were itching terribly. The same thing had happened a few months ago when I was working around the giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) in the front yard. Bamboo leaves can leave tiny cuts on your skin, much like a paper cut, and the fine hairs on culm sheaths can be irritating but I’d never had a problem like this before. Could I have developed an allergy to bamboo? I did a quick Google search and there is anecdotal evidence of just that.

My rash went away after about eight hours but the itching was not pleasant. I decided to postpone any further bamboo maintenance until temperatures have dropped into the 60s so I can comfortably wear a long-sleeved shirt.

Has anybody else experienced similar reactions to bamboo?

4 comments:

  1. Oh yes. Perhaps not that extreme, but arm itchiness after working in bamboo for sure. Like you I attributed it to tiny cuts, but perhaps there's more going on. Sometimes I get a rash on my arms when I've not been anywhere near the bamboo, so perhaps I've developed an allergy to strenuous outdoor work.

    The only problem with your pruning: I can see your compost bin now, or maybe that's just a Vaderesque bbq grill. ;-)

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    Replies
    1. Oh, I'm allergic to any strenuous work, that's nothing new, LOL.

      Seriously, I'm a bit relieved that this isn't some freak thing I'm experiencing. I react pretty strongly to insect bites, for example, so it stands to reason my reaction to bamboo would be more pronounced as well. What is strange, however, is that I never had any reaction at all until a few months ago.

      As for that black bin in the background: I look at it as priceless outdoor art :-). I have a piece of bamboo fencing that I sometimes prop up against the bin to disguise it but then I have to move the fencing every time I toss something in the bin, which is quite frequently. The joys of living on a small lot...

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  2. I have yes, especially when trimming away new shoots of bamboos with hairy culm sheaths. I wear gloves when doing so now but find every so often I have to take anti histamine before I tackle the job.

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  3. It's a beautiful plant, but long-sleeve shirt and gloves from now on, okay?

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