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Long Island Town Bans Bamboo, Threatens $350 Fine, Possible Jail Time

MALVERNE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – It's green and lush and looks very tropical.

But bamboo has become a serious headache because of how quickly and unpredictably it spreads.

As CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, Long Island officials are solving the problem with new laws.

What started as a few shoots of bamboo 10 years ago in a Malverne backyard, is now a jungle – 30-foot high bamboo towers over Peter Zullo's home, blocking the sun.

"There is no sunlight. I can't plant anything," Zullo said.

But soon it will have to come down. Malverne has joined a growing crop of municipalities on Long Island and beyond in banning bamboo. The invasive plant is popular as a screen in suburban backyards, but a Farmingdale State College expert said it has a destructive mind of its own.

"You may want it to stay in a straight line on your property, but it's going to go 360 degrees every which way," said horticulture professor Dr. Jonathan Lerner.

And its razor sharp shoots can cut through just about anything.

"Pushing through people's basement walls, collapsing people's staircases," said Malverne Superintendent of Public Works Paul Jessup. "You can see right here; it's pushed up the blacktop."

The underground stems are attacking a recently paved Malverne street. Officials said the point of government getting involved in what used to be a civil court matter is to protect quality of life.

"When it starts to grow it just permeates throughout -- it's just amazing," Malverne Mayor Patty McDonald.

The homeowner whose bamboo prompted Malverne's new law didn't want to talk on camera, but told CBS 2's Gusoff he thinks it's hypocritical for a village to promote beautification and then ban a beautiful plant.

And fans point out not all bamboo is harmful. The destructive species is called "running bamboo" or "yellow groove," but Malverne, like other villages, has banned it all.

Growers can soon face $350 fines per week or even 15 days in jail if the bamboo keeps growing.

There is a 30-day grace period for homeowners to remove their outdoor bamboo plants.

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