Making Bamboo Taboo

A frustrated homeowner takes her beef about unwanted vegetation to Trenton.

Elaine Walsh is a busy woman. A dedicated nurse and single mother with four children, three grandchildren and a dog, she lost her Atlantic City home in Superstorm Sandy and spent two years bouncing around in temporary housing.

After her insurance settlement came through, she was finally able to buy a new house in Linwood, about 10 miles from her old home. She found a 1950s ranch with a backyard full of “pretty bushes and vegetation.” Soon after moving in last March, she gathered her family to celebrate.

That’s when her adult daughter, Theresa, told her that running bamboo was growing in the yard. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Walsh recalls. Before she bought the house, she had a final walk-through, but it was winter and she hadn’t noticed that the neighboring house, which was in foreclosure, was surrounded by bamboo, some of it 20 feet high.

By July, she was watching in horror as the bamboo slinked across her lawn, under her patio and right up to the foundation of her new home. “It grew inches a day,” she says. She tried snipping the shoots as they came up, but it was a losing battle.

Frustrated, Walsh contacted local officials, then she went to Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-Northfield), who introduced legislation to control the spread of bamboo, an invasive species. Mazzeo’s bill passed the Assembly in 2014; it is pending action by the Senate. Whatever the fate of the legislation, Walsh is glad to know that somebody is paying attention to the problem.

The bank that is foreclosing on the neighboring property has cleared away the bamboo—perhaps because of her complaints—and she has been vigilant about clipping any shoots that stray into her yard. She says she’d like to plant a few hydrangeas, her favorite flower. Until she finds the time to get back there, she’s happy to settle for what’s already in the yard, which is full of greenery, including a few butterfly bushes.

Walsh was surprised to find out that butterfly bushes, too, are considered invasive. “Really?” she says. “Wow. They’re getting ripped out.”

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