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.


Chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa) before its haircut


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:





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?


  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. ;-)

    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...

  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.

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

  4. I was trimming some low hanging bamboo and in the process I got the same reaction everyone is speaking of. Funny thing I have done this a few times prior with no reaction from the bamboo. But this is the hot season here in Thailand and I was sweating so what ever it was had a chance to stick to me. Only got the rash neck and arms where I was exposed.

  5. I have wells like bee stings they are hot and itch. My lip actually swelled. I'm miserable and dont know what to do? I know I would have a sting sensation when cutting the bamboo. But it's literally spread to my back and my lip hurts bad.

  6. Yes, this happened to me. I was cutting bamboo shoots, 20 foot lengths and I noticed this itchy rash developing on my forearms. It lasted for several hours and it wasn't as uncomfortable as some of what has been described. But it was definitely itchy. Next time I will wear long sleeves and gloves. Maybe a mask as well. Whatever it is, I would not want to be breathing it in.

  7. I ate bamboo shoots from a tin last night, my entire body swelled, not throat, then after taking a pill it settled in my hands and face. Intense itching, horrendous. and my hands are very very sore even still. And all I did was eat a little of it.

  8. oh boy i carried a whole bunch of cut bamboo at least 20 and my chest and arms are so itchy and red feels like insulation I was wearing a shirt that covered my chest so I dont know why it is itchy in that area, I understand the arms. Lesson learned, as I plan to build a small sort of arbor at the entrance to the lanai.

  9. The tiny spores from the bamboo are invisible and will go thru clothing. A family member was covered in spots and welts for over a week. They were horrendously itchy. Her throat was sore and she lost all energy. Only settled with antihistamine creams prednisone.

  10. As a landscaper I am frequently asked to correct homeowners mistakes of planting a rhizome based bamboo with no borders to keep it from spreading. I had never had any reaction to any bamboo until the other day when clearing a 10x20 ft section some of which was approximately 20-25 ft tall. My method of cutting it at the base in sections and tying it into bundles to be drug to the road for pickup had me wrapping my arms around it and lifting one end of the bundle onto my shoulder to carry and by about halfway through I developed a severe rash on both forearms and my neck on the side that I was shouldering. No itching just a constant burning sensation. I kept working and it became so bad that the area inside my left elbow felt like it was rubbed raw. At the end of the day a warm shower and cortisone cream helped and it was all but cleared up by the next morning, all but the area on my left arm that is still healing like the worst carpet burn you’ve ever had. I will definitely be wearing sleeves from now on when working with bamboo but it does seem odd to have developed such an allergy all of a sudden.

    1. I was cut some unwanted bamboo today. It was about 20 ft long and the leafs had not come out yet. So it snapped and liquid came out and my neck instantly began to hurt. It felt like a jellyfish had gotten me

    2. It's the silica in the leaves. It's a bit fiberglass insulation. Who knew?


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