Babylon passes law to keep bamboo in check

Bamboo, a fast-growing plant which originated in China, Bamboo, a fast-growing plant which originated in China, is favored by some homeowners as a privacy screen. Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden

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The Babylon Town Board on Tuesday restricted cultivation of certain kinds of bamboo, the fast-growing tropical grass some residents say is suburbia's scourge.

Doris Bezold, of Copiague, told how the 50-foot bamboo stand loomed over her yard in the summer and damaged her fence in the winter, its hollow stems, known as culms, turned into icy battering rams.

Karen Elefterion, of West Babylon, noted the plant's fearsome resiliency: In World War II, she said, it survived bombings lethal to most other life-forms.

Babylon's law, which joins about a dozen passed on Long Island since 2011, seeks containment of the genera of bamboo known as leptomorphs, whose roots spread horizontally underground. It does not call for their eradication, but owners of existing plants or anyone planting new ones must use above-ground planters to keep the bamboo from spreading roots, or surround the bamboo on the ground with a steel-clasped heavy plastic barrier sunk 30 inches deep and extending at least 3 inches above ground.

Even confined bamboo must be kept 10 feet from the property line, and violators can be fined up to $500 per day.

Tamson Yeh, a turf and land management specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said bamboo was introduced to the United States in the early 20th century and probably soon after to Long Island, where it was in vogue with the estate set.

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These days she fields questions on the plant from suburbanites in more modest circumstances. "It's people who have a very small property and want some sort of effective barrier so they don't have to look their neighbor in the eye every single time they come out," she said.

She sometimes recommends clumping varieties, which have a "beautiful vase-like shape and dense foliage."

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