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It is a large, herbaceous perennial plant. It has hollow stems with distinct raised nodes that give it the appearance of bamboo, though it is not closely related. While stems may reach a maximum height of 3–4 m each growing season, it is typical to see much smaller plants in places where they sprout through cracks in the pavement or are repeatedly cut down. The leaves are broad oval with a truncated base, 7–14 cm long and 5–12 cm broad, with an entire margin. The flowers are small, cream or white, produced in erect racemes 6–15 cm long in late summer and early autumn.
It is native to eastern Asia in Japan, China and Korea. In North America and Europe the species is very successful and has been classified as an invasive species in several countries.
Other names: fleeceflower, Himalayan fleece vine, monkeyweed, monkey fungus, Hancock's curse, elephant ears, pea shooters, donkey rhubarb, sally rhubarb, Japanese bamboo, American bamboo, and Mexican bamboo. The young stems are edible as a spring vegetable, with a flavor similar to extremely sour rhubarb. In some locations, semi-cultivating Japanese knotweed for food has been used as a means of controlling knotweed populations that invade sensitive wetland areas and drive out the native vegetation. Some caution should be exercised when consuming this plant because it, similar to rhubarb, contains oxalic acid, which may aggravate conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity.