While there are plenty of raw materials for instrument-making which have come under threat from climate change and environmental destruction (tropical hardwoods, to offer just one example), at least one type of instrument seems safe.
Arundo Donax, the “giant reed” which provides the vibrating material for saxophonists & clarinetists worldwide, is not only critical for wind players, but potentially one of the “miracle plants” for the biomass industry.
OXFORD, N.C. — It’s fast-growing and drought-tolerant, producing tons of biomass per acre. It thrives even in poor soil and is a self-propagating perennial, so it requires little investment once established.
To people in the renewable fuels industry, Arundo donax – also known as “giant reed” – is nothing short of a miracle plant. An Oregon power plant is looking at it as a potential substitute for coal, and North Carolina boosters are salivating over the prospect of an ethanol bio-refinery that would bring millions of dollars in investment and dozens of high-paying jobs to hog country.
Of course, there’s a potential downside: the reed is fast-growing and potentially invasive; some people are worried that it will take over areas a la kudzu.
Like kudzu, which came to the United States as part of Japan’s exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Arundo arrived here in the mid- to late 19th century. And also like kudzu, Arundo was once touted as a perfect crop to help stem erosion. In California and Texas, farmers, ranchers and government workers enthusiastically planted it along waterways and drainage ditches. Shallow rooted, the canes would break off and move downstream, starting new stands.
Arundo has become “naturalized” in 25 warmer-weather states, according to a USDA weed risk analysis released in June.
In banning it, California, Nevada and Texas have said the plant crowds out native species and consumes precious water.
The Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council lists it as a “Significant Threat.” Virginia officials have labeled it “moderately invasive.” The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has categorized giant reed as “occasionally invasive.” But that might change if it were to be promoted as a commercial crop, says Elizabeth Byers, a vegetation ecologist with the agency’s wildlife diversity unit.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to see any invasive species used as biomass,” she says. “Because they can escape.”
North Carolina is keeping an eye on Arundo, but the folks in Oxford say past need not be prologue.
Here’s a little crash-course in how reeds are made at the Rico company.
And just in case any of us needed to be reminded of what you can do with a reed: