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5 Invasive Species That Might Conquer the World


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Golden Bamboo
Golden bamboo can destroy native plants and the habitats they provide for wildlife.
Golden bamboo can destroy native plants and the habitats they provide for wildlife.
©iStockphoto.com/ bayuharsa

Who doesn't appreciate the beauty of bamboo? Tall and strong, with delicate green leaves and an exotic, calming look, its appeal is apparent in the fact that several hundred species have been imported to the U.S. by the horticultural industry for use as ornamental plants. But bamboo can be a bit, well, nasty, especially the 24 varieties within the genus Phyllostachys [source: Brown]. And Phyllostachys aurea, or golden bamboo, is the nastiest of them all.

Golden bamboo was brought to Alabama from China in 1882 to create visual and sound barriers for privacy. An aggressive, fast-growing plant that can reach heights of 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters), it quickly overtook everything in its path, destroying native plants and the habitats they provide for wildlife, and offering nothing in return. In the U.S. today, golden bamboo is a problem mainly in the Southeast, from Maryland to Arkansas, although it's also causing problems in Oregon and other Western states. The cost to U.S. taxpayers to fight its spread is an astonishing $138 billion per year [source: Brown].

But it's not just America that's fighting golden bamboo. The plant is cultivated worldwide as an ornamental in tropical to temperate areas, and other countries -- such as Australia -- have problems controlling it, too [source: U.S. Forest Service, Bamboo Wholesale].