The Lost Grove

The recent (in a geologic time frame) propagation of bamboo across oceans and continents is due solely to the efforts of enlightened members of the species Homo sapiens.  Each specific location of these "new" groves is due to one individual, who either planted it or motivated others to plant it.  Literature records the efforts of some of the more influentialbamboo disseminators. Others, less famous, leave their mark with the bamboo that continues today. Without reservation, the most productive of these individuals is Floyd A. McClure.  The many groves of bamboo due to McClure cannot be quantified.  His efforts have been multiplied by many subsequent individuals, transplanting from his groves to even more.  I have become one of these.

So it was with unbridled enthusiasm that I accepted an invitation to hike up the montane forests of Toro Negro here in Puerto Rico to find the long lost grove of Arundinaria amablis, planted by McClure in 1935. Organized by Paul Yoshioka, and guided by Danny Pesante, myself and my son Sam embarked to the cloud forest on a sunny day in February.  After enduring the highway and traffic of Ponce, on Puerto Ricos' south coast, we headed up the winding roads to the summit of the Cordillera, the spine of mountains that traverses the island East to West.  Noticeably cooler, windy, and peppered with occasional rain squalls, we set out on foot via old abandoned roads and winding streams.  Our guide, Danny, had visited the grove many times, I found out, camping alone and/or accompanied by several individuals of note. He guided Luis Marden while researching the 1980 bamboo article in National Geographic.  It had been several years and several hurricanes since Danny had been here, and it became apparent that, though the terrain remained the same, the vegetation had not. The recent devastation wrought by hurricane Georges, which passed directly over this area, almost totally toppled the canopy. The additional sunlight now reaching the forest floor, however, induced a profusion of impatiens, and a few other not so desireable species.  Our excursion was punctuated by some backtracking, but Dannys' reassurance, and the discovery of his previous trail markers, kept my son from totally abandoning these crazy old guys.

We finally spotted the grove,  but it was another hour before we could actually set foot in it.  And set foot we did, a 200' by 200' profusion of Arundinaria, standing tall with apparent indignation to the destruction wrought by the hurricane .  The grove is  monoclonal,derived from 200 plants propagated from one specimen brought to Puerto Rico from China by McClure.  Another grove, equally impressive, existed across the stream on the opposing bank. Danny humbly informed us that he had packed a pick axe on one of his camping expeditions, and transplanted one complete root clump there, and it thrived.  He showed us his camp spot, in the very center of the grove.  Here, I thought, is the quintessential unsung hero of bamboo, and the sole link to this beautiful bamboo place.

After lunch, and now each equipped with the obligatory bamboo walking stick, we reluctantly headed back to civilization.  We stopped at a waterfall, where only Sam could muster the boldness to take a dip in the cool mountain water.  The rest of us pondered the profusion of one of Puerto Ricos' native, herbacious, climbing bamboos clinging to the walls of this special place,  "Arthrostylidium armentosum". It too thrived amid the destruction evident from the recent hurricane.  We speculated that perhaps with the removal of much of the overstory, the bamboos may be the ultimate beneficiary, with the additional insolation and disturbed terrain.

There is much additional lore related to this particular grove. One particular episode, alluded to by Danny, is an ill-fated excursion in 1985 by some individuals attending the first international bamboo conference here in Mayaguez.  Upon publishing this chronicle on the bamboo net, I was further informed about this adventure from Hermine, whose husband, Roger Stover , of Endangered Species Nursery, was the key player :

"Oh it wasn't that ill-fated, if you overlook the attempt the group made to kill my husband Roger who wandered off, broke his ankle, and was left rotting in a streambed overnight. I knew when he did not call that night that something had happened. Jews are like that, best believe it.

Anyway, Roger was carried out of the jungle by a group of volunteers who found him, with some amabilis babies clutched to his steel-hard, flat belly, and came home, had foot in cast for a while, and recovered. He isÊ now the lead dancer in "Riverdance" by the way, so you can see his ankle healed perfectly. Oddly enough,he could not dance at all before the accident.

One botanist, Dr. Bruce McAlpin, described Roger's adventure as a "cheap publicity stunt", so I had him killed. other than that, the amabilis is still are...somewhere. judging from the photos of the expedition, what seems most tragic is a longing for beer, easily read on most of the boys' faces.  I stayed home to take care of the nursery and the dogs.  We still have the commemorative T shirt. it is quite the fashion item!  hermine" Roger himself e-mailed me to say: " It was the most memorable experience in my life with bamboo." It would be safe to say this grove has engendered more than one memorable experience, and now mine can be added to this most fortunate group.  The grove thrives in the cool mountain air, and will be there for any future intrepid bambusero. I would be happy to provide directions for those of you who may be visiting Puerto Rico, but I can assume no responsibility for any mis-adventures.

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