Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bushcraft - Central Texas Style - River Cane

River Cane

Native Americans were the ultimate survivalists and always made use of those things in nature that were both plentiful and offered the widest range of uses to enhance and support their lifestyles. River cane (Arundinaria gigantea) is one such resource that was used by many Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee, Choctaw and Caddo, for a multitude of purposes. This, along with its shorter cousin, switch cane (aka, Tecta) which normally reaches heights of about 10 feet, were the only native bamboos found in America. River cane originally had a very wide range but extensive clearing for farming purposes and the raising of livestock have actually brought this native form of bamboo close to extinction, even though it is a non-invasive species of bamboo.

River cane and its smaller relative, switch cane, are the largest members of the grass family that are native to the United States. They both thrive in bottomlands near rivers and streams but river cane grows much taller than switch cane (the shorter variety) and can reach heights of 20 feet or more. River cane is currently found in 23 states and switch cane is found in 14 of these states. River cane is found as far west as the state of Texas and as far north as the state of New York. Its primary distribution is in the Southern and Southeastern United States.

Here is a link to a map of the distribution of river cane in the various states:

Native Americans used river cane as a resource for all aspects of their lives. Since the principal locations for living were along rivers and streams which provide a source for water, the abundance of river cane in these areas made river cane a widely used resource by Native Americans. They made arrows that were both strong and lightweight and were feared by early Spanish explorers because of their effectiveness against their breastplate armor. They were also used to make excellent spears, knives and longer hollowed-out sections of river cane were also used to make blowguns. The very nature of river cane made it easily worked for a wide range of items in addition to making weapons.

Here is a link to an excellent pictorial with instructions on how to straighten river cane when making arrow shafts:;f=2;t=000071;p=0

River cane was also used to weave baskets and is one of the harder of the indigenous Native American skills to acquire. Hollow sections of river cane were also used to make storage containers for spices, seeds, and water. Its resistance to fire when green also allowed it to be used as a cooking vessel.Green river cane does not readily burn and was used to make a grill of sorts that could be used over a fire for the smoking of meat and fish. The cooking of food by stuffing it into sections of green cane and placing these sections over a fire is a common practice that is currently used in many Asian countries to this day.

Here is a link to making river cane baskets:

River cane not only provided poles for fishing and the construction of fishing weirs, it was also used in the construction of shelters as well. It was also very useful in that in provided a building and construction material that could be found in virtually identical sizes that were uniform in their nature. This aided greatly in the construction of numerous items from weapons to shelter and included such items as flutes and pipes.

River cane was also used to make torches to provide light. Large river cane torches were sometimes constructed to provide light for ceremonies or other festivities. Hollow sections of river cane were also used by some Native Americans to harvest pitch from pine trees and stored it in the hollow sections of river cane as well.

Here is a link on how to make a torch from river cane:

River cane also provided a food source as well as its other uses. The young shoots of river cane, which are similar to bamboo shoots, were also used in salads and stews and the nutritional value of river cane seeds rivaled that of both wheat and rice. River cane thus provided all the necessary elements for survival. From its use as a food source to its use as a tool or making weapons and traps it was truly a multi-use item for survival.

A good survivalist knows that being familiar with all the available resources in your area can be critical to your survival.

Got river cane?



HermitJim said...

Thanks for all the great information, buddy! I never knew this about the River Cane!

Shows how we can see something all our lives, and never really notice all the possibilities!

Good post!

chinasyndrome said...

Now that's good info.


riverwalker said...

To: HermitJim

I'm not sure if they used it to make containers to drink coffee but with a little imagination...

River cane was actually a very useful plant that was able to serve a variety of needs. The fact that it was in abundant supply and in the right area made it a versatile resource.

Thanks Jim.


riverwalker said...

To: chinasyndrome

I'm not sure as to the presence of river cane in your area but it is present in large amounts (aka, canebreaks)along the creek at my farm. It was also a great habitat for numerous wildlife that also provided an additional food source (i.e., meat) for the diet of Native Americans.

Thanks cs.


Anonymous said...

I think I recognize it as a plant that often lines some earthern canal banks I've seen locally - I never knew what it was. Thanks for a great post on this topic - good to know information.

The Ferret said...

Great stuff,my grandfather used to make fish traps from it.have to see if I remember how next time I'm out.

riverwalker said...

To; anonymous 5:38

I've seen it growing in different parts of the city where I live in small patches. most people probably think of it as just another weed without realizing its true value.

Thanks anon.


riverwalker said...

To: the Ferret

I believe its major use was to build fishing weirs or to make spears for fishing. Done a lot of fishing with just the old cane pole...nothing fancy but it worked and is a lot cheaper than some of my current fishing rods.

Thanks Ferret.


Quebedeaux said...

Thanks for the information good stuff the cane is, my Father made us little cane flutes while out in the South East Texas marshes.

riverwalker said...

To: Quebedeaux

It can still be found in small patches here and there throughout my area and like many things has a multitude of uses.



Anonymous said...

Hi found your website while researching river cane. Just fyi that picture in your article is not arundinaria gigantea or river cane people call it cane but it look like it is phragmites an invasive species

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