Page 8, West Craven Highlights, January 5,1984
Rare Blossomings of B a m b o o
Pandas’ Survival Threatens
N.C. Botanical Garden
By George B. Schalierj
’National Geographic Society
This giant panda in China’s Wolbng Natural Reserve
crunches a hamhoo shoot in its powerful jaws. It may con-
By Joy Aschenback
National Geographic News Service
sume more than 30 pounds of bamboo a day. A rare die-off
of arrow bamboo in the Wolong area threatens the pandas.
WASHINGTON—The village grandfathers recall
that it last happened during the time of the Long
March in the 1930s bamboo bursting into flower high
up in the mountains in the heart of China’s panda
range. But no one knows for sure.
It is certain that when some mysterious internal
clock tells bamboo to blossom, about every 30,60 or 120
years, it signals danger for the already endangered
When bamboo flowers, it dies—within a few years.
And it can take five to 10 years for new seedlings to
mature. In the meantime, there may be no food for
pandas, which live almost exclusively on a few kinds of
Arrow in Bloom
Arrow bamboo is now flowering more than 8,000
feet up in the Qionglai Mountains of Sichuan Province.
It is the principal diet of the 126 to 160 pandas
inhabiting China’s largest panda reserve, Wolong. The
same species, Arundinaria fangiana, also is blooming
in nearby Baoxing County, where at least 200 more
pandas live. Altogether there are only about 1,000
pandas left in the wild in China.
“There’s the potential of an emergency,” according
to Dr, George B. Schaller, co-leader of the panda field
research project jointly funded by the World Wildlife
Fund and the Chinese government. “The situation
must be monitored carefully, and we must be prepared
to help if pandas can’t find alternative sources of
About 140 pandas starved to death in the mid-1970s
when another species of bamboo blossomed in another
region of China’s panda range. That calamity was a
major impetus in launching the panda research
project, which began in 1980. As China becomes more
and more developed, pandas may have an even harder
time finding food.
“The pandas in Wolong spend most of their time high
up in the mountains where the arrow bamboo grows,”
says Dr. Julian J.N. Campbell, who was plant ecologist
for the World Wildlife project. “Now they will be
forced down to try to eat other kinds growing in the
lower regions, but there are people down there too,
living right in the reserve. The pandas could be
And pandas need a lot of bamboo. Each panda
consumes from 22 to 33 pounds of bamboo a day. Their
digestive tracts are able to extract little nutritive value
from each plant, which has only about as much
nutrition as an onion.
The emergence of the tassel-like brownish blossoms
in Wolong was not predicted. “A patch here, a patch
there had blossomed in the last few years,” says
Schaller. “At the end of 1982, only about 6 percent was
in the process of blooming. Now over 90 percent of it is
in blossom. We knew it was building up to it, but we
didn’t know it would happen this year.”
Why bamboo flowers is still a mystery to scientists.
“There’s some internal mechanism, with a
predetermined cycle. Regardless of the environment,
when it’s time to flower, it flowers, and we have
absolutely no idea what triggers this,” says Dr.
Thomas R. Soderstrom, curator at the Smithsonian
Institution’s department of botany.
Despite the long' intervals between flowering,
bamboo’s preset calendar remarkably causes all
plants of the same species—wherever they are in the
world—to burst into flower at roughly the same time.
In China, government officials are now surveying
the bamboo outside Wolong to determine the extent of
flowering elsewhere and the availability of alternative
Once this survey is complete, says Schaller, “we will
know exactly how seriously the pandas will be affected
in the next few years.” Food may have to be delivered
to pandas in certain areas, or the pandas themselves
may have to be trapped and moved to places where
bamboo is plentiful.
This year’s flowering of arrow bamboo will barely be
noticed by the pandas at the National Zoo here. That
species is not part of their diet. They eat several
varieties of bamboo that are home-grown in gardens in
the Washington area.
During the winter, when much of the vegetation in
the woods and fields is dormant, people have an
excellent chance to observe an unusual group of plants.
These are the lichens, which are highly diverse and
can be found in all sorts of locations. They appear as
crusty spots on rocks, greenish fuzz on the bark of
trees, orange splotches on sea cliffs, pinkish patches
with cottony fibers on roadcuts and in ditches, or as
greenish-gray, moss-like patches on forest floors.
There are, in fact, some 10,000 species of lichens,
roughly classified by their characteristic forms:
crusty, leaflike or shrubby, and some intermediate
types as well. The variations in form are matched by
the variety of hues: grays, greens, reds, pinks, oranges,
browns and blacks. Some lichens, though, are small
and inconspicuous and therefore easy to overlook.
Lichens are actually comiMsed of two plants: a
fungue and an elga. Most lichens have single-called
green algae, though a few types contain bacteria
The fungus and the algae help each other to survive
in a cooperative relationship known as symbiosis. The
bulk of the lichen—and its most conspicuous part—is
the fungus, which provides the minerals the plant
needs, secretes substances to help anchor it to rocks or
other substrates and stores water for itself and its
partner. The green algae manufacture carbohydrates
by photosynthesis and thus help feed the lichen pair.
Lichens are important in being “pioneer” plants.
They are among the first in nature to colonize barren
areas, rocky spots and other inhospitable places that
most plants would shun.
After the lichens slowly become established, other
plants can come in and take root. One can find a
regular natural sequence in which mosses and grasses
follow the Lichens, and then woody and flowering
plants can succeed. Thus it is the lichens that paved the
way on once bare and lifeless spots for the ultimate
growth of many of the higher orders of plants.
Lichens ar^ useful in other ways. Reindeer and
caribou depend on lichens for food, and extracts from a
few species have served as antibiotics for humans,
other, perhaps better-known uses include the making
of dyes once used for Harris tweeds and of the dye
employed in litmus paper for measuring the acidity of
Next time you are out for a stroll, look around for
some lichens. The gray-green crust that you see on a
boulder is a marvelous plant, alive and transforming
nature right now for future generations of other
For more information about lichens, call, write or
visit the N.C. Botanical Garden at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many lichens can be
seen along the nature paths at the garden.
Treat Tree Damaged
By Ice, Snow, Wind
Ice, snow, wind and
lighting damage many shade
trees each year.
If the damage to your
shade trees is minor, you may
wish to clean up downed trees
or repair damaged trees your
self. Ask your county ofBce
of the Agricultural Extension
Service for advice.
Bent limbs or tree trunks
are under extreme pressure.
Be careful, they will spring
up when cut. In no case
should you attempt to re
move limbs or trees which
are on electrical lines.
If you hire the work done,
get a reputable tree service.
Before hiring someone, check
to see if they are listed in the
telephone directory, ask for
references, and ask about
their liability insurance.
If all your tree needs is
(Corrective,pruning don’t let.
anyone cut the limbs back
until the tree is nothing more
than a stubbed pole, re
sembling a hat rack.
If lighting strikes a shade
tree, there is no simply way
to determine if it will live or
not. Chances are the tree will
die if the trunk is split or the
roots are damaged. Don’t do
a lot of work or spend a lot of
money on a tree that has been
struck by lightning until you
see if it is going to live or
die. Fertilizing and watering
it will help. However, these
practices are no guarantee
the tree will live.
Check with your insurance
agent to determine if storm
damage to trees is covered.
Both the state and federal
governments allow income
tax deductions for the loss
of shade trees.
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