Cane (also named ‘giant reed’) grows in damp soils, either fresh or moderately saline, and is native to the Greater Middle East. It has been widely planted and naturalized in the mild temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of both hemispheres, especially in the Mediterranean, California, the western Pacific and the Caribbean and is considered an invasive species in several regions, including Portugal.
Cane (Arundo donax L.) grows in damp soils, either fresh or moderately saline, and is native to the Greater Middle East.
Cane has been widely planted and naturalized in the mild temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of both hemispheres, especially in the Mediterranean, California, the western Pacific and the Caribbean and is considered an invasive species in several regions, including Portugal.
It propagates through roots or rhizomes and spreads quickly, which causes changes in natural systems. This is mainly worrying because it causes difficulties in water drainage, increasing the risk of flooding, hence the need to control its growth, namely through the massive use of this material.
It is among the fastest-growing terrestrial plants in the world (nearly 10 centimetres per day), and to present knowledge, it does not provide any food sources or nesting habitats for wildlife. The replacement of native plant communities by Cane results in low-quality habitat and altered ecosystem functioning. Also highly flammable throughout the year and during the drier months of the year, it can increase the probability, intensity, and spread of wildfires, so harvesting it provides a means to clean the fields throughout the year.
To be worked, cane offers, however, more difficulties than other natural fibers, as it is not possible to acquire local material already prepared, forcing practitioners to collect it from the riverbanks and invest time and work in its preparation, a fact that is seen as an additional constraint of this activity: it is necessary to invest in preparing the material, going to the riverbanks to collect, to lath and clean. Furthermore, in riverbanks you need to know how to choose straight canes, with a similar degree of maturity, to have the same thickness and hardness and also harvest the canes at the right time.
Cane is cut by hand with a sickle between October and February and, after being harvested, it is cleaned with the help of a knife to remove all the leaves and knots, and split into thinner strips (thickness depends on the piece that the craftsperson wants to produce). As Cane is a very sharp material, the preparation process has to be done carefully to avoid cutting the hands.
The production of cane basketry was predominantly centred in the South of Portugal, primarily as a male-dominated craft and was historically utilized to craft baskets directly associated with fishing and trade. Some nomadic groups were also known to engage in cane basketry to generate additional income by selling baskets. The best-selling product today is the oval shaped basket with a lid, made world famous by British-French actress and singer Jane Birkin, and traditionally used to transport and store vegetables, eggs or fruit.