Thursday, 28 September 2023

Lyle: Exploring uses for an invasive weed

About six or seven years ago (while still living in Lake County) I got interested in Arundo donax. I thought it was beautiful (and still think so), but as I began to learn about it, I also learned about how invasive it is. There is also some history (which I have not verified) that it came into California from Old Mexico. One thing that may not have any credence in supporting that history is, however, interesting and related.

In California, I have seen (in museums and as decor) some of the old Mexican "donkey" carts which had wooden wheels, and wood framed side walls with infilled verticals of ... yes Arundo donax (in the Orient the peasants use bamboo in much the same way). I, myself, made some folding screens with Arundo donax in fill. When dried slowly, it isn't so prone to split, and it stays very strong if you seal (varnish or lacquer) it after it has dried, but not cracked.

But the thing that really got me interested was the many things that the Orient does with bamboo ... and why not us with Arundo donax. One thought was making paper with it. I got so excited, I went up Highway 101 to the Samoa Pacific Paper Co., and managed to get to one of their vice presidents (when I explained to the reception secretary why I was there, she said, "Oh, you need to talk to our Arundo man."). I got to spend almost a half hour with him. When I first started to sell him that Arundo would make paper, he was both amused and nice ...

He stopped me, said that they had in fact made paper from Arundo (because he had badgered the other executives until they tried it), and, yes... it makes very good paper. But!!!

But! Two problems. To get the quantity it would require (it isn't economically viable to go out and mow fence rows and ditches) it would require large plots of land that can be inundated, much like ... in fact, exactly like ... the areas that grow rice. And ... rice will produce more income than the worth of Arundo for making paper. At least, so say the paper people. He did, however, say that they would be glad to use any Arundo that anyone might bring to them. Unfortunately, however, all the paper mills are where forests are, and Arundo is nowhere the trees are. So now we also have a problem of logistics. Damn! Back to square one.

Arundo also makes a good penny whistle if you know how ... and I do (my grandmother from Arkansas taught me how to do it when I was a kid; she used to tell me that she had been a tomboy when she was a little girl).

Dried and varnished (or lacquered) Arundo does make a good in-fill for decorative screens, baskets, lamp shades, trash baskets, shutters, beach mats and such. It can also be laced into a running fence (rope or light wire) much like those which have wooden lath verticals.

But none of that is going to keep up with the over growth that is possible.

My next fantasy ... one I have not pursued ... is that the biomass of Arundo (and, by the way, the hydrilla and other water weeds) could be dried, compressed and made into fire logs. I am absolutely convinced that somewhere there is a combination of material and need for such ... but I haven't the capital to experiment or prove.

And, finally, I am quite cynical about the governmental and political churn that surrounds such problems. I think, in the long run, the real byproduct of such materials and problems, is the publicity opportunity for politicians and capitalists. Problems and/or opportunities like these are great opportunities for noise and apparent action which in fact goes no where, but it can be used to screen and divert attention while the darker side of "business as usual" does as it usually does.

Jim Lyle lives in Yountville. He is a past poet laureate of Lake County.


Upcoming Calendar

09.28.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center
09.30.2023 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Kelseyville Pear Festival
09.30.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
10.01.2023 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Ron Green Memorial Benefit Concert
10.05.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center
10.06.2023 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
David Arkenstone & Friends in concert
10.07.2023 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Sponsoring Survivorship Breast Cancer Run & Walk
10.07.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
Columbus Day

Mini Calendar



Award winning journalism on the shores of Clear Lake. 



Enter your email here to make sure you get the daily headlines.

You'll receive one daily headline email and breaking news alerts.
No spam.