Bamboo Identification Guide

Comprehensive Bamboo Identification

How to Identify Bamboo Species?

Bamboo identification, or researching bamboo names can be a difficult task, especially if you are not familiar with scientific and botanical terms. Most databases online will use descriptions that look like this: Guadua angustifolia.

Understood…? If this sounds too complicated, then this page is for you, a comprehensive beginners guide to bamboo identification!

Understanding the Complexity of Bamboo Classification

The main difficulty in bamboo identification are the usually very long intervals between flowering (especially woody bamboos). In traditional taxonomy, components of flowers are often used as the most important part of the plant to classify a species, but in some bamboo species flowering interval can be up to 130 years! Therefore, the state of classification of bamboo (bambusoid grasses) is far behind that of all the other groups of grasses.

The classification and precise identification of bamboo has been a topic of debate for centuries. There are tendencies towards both a narrower and a wider definition of several bamboo genera by contemporary botanists, leading to different classifications and to name changes. The definition of many genera thus remains far from being sufficiently settled, because some bamboo species are sometimes “re-classified” under another, more appropriate genus.

All this makes it difficult to produce a general, world-wide survey of the bamboos, or their classification, even of a single genus. The most important data are considered to be the botanical names of the genera and species and their geographical distribution, along with their references. With the help of this information it will be possible for anyone to obtain a lot of additional facts: plant descriptions, diagnoses and keys for plant identification, botanical drawings, photographs of the plants, precise plant localities, vernacular names and much more.

Identifying Bamboos

Identification and classification of a bamboo species depends on the observation and description of all the plant parts. Rarely can a single part of the plant be used to recognize a bamboo species immediately. Usually it is a combination of characteristics that lead to the correct identification or classification of the bamboo species. We listed the most common characteristics and features of the bamboo plant below:


Identifying Bamboo Rhizomes

1 . Length between culms and diameter:

  • Short and thick, long and slender.

2. Rhizome habit:

  • Specialized as props for culm, running over ground, running underground.

3. Occurrence of buds on rhizomes neck:

  • Present, absent.

4. Position of roots:

  • At the nodal line only, at random.

For more information see this article about: Types of Bamboo Rhizomes


Identifying Bamboo Culms

1. Spacing of the culms:

  • Close together and forming clumps (if so, what is the diameter of the clump and estimate number of culms included), widely separated and not forming dense clumps.

2. Habit of the culms:

  • Strictly erect, erect and arching over, lying down, reclining, clambering, vine-like (climbing or hanging).

3. Size of the culms:

  • Height or length, diameter.

4. Occurrence of the nodes:

  • Solitary, in close succession.

5. Shape of the nodes (in longitudinal section):

  • Sides parallel, narrower below and widening above.

6. Architecture of the nodes:

  • Single nodal line present (this horizontal or dipping), nodal line plus nodal ridge present, girdle present.

7. Surface of the nodes:

  • Smooth, pubescent, beset with root primordia or root thorns.

8. Color of the internodes:

  • Green, bluish-green, green with white stripes, yellow with green stripes.

9. Surface of the internodes:

  • Glabrous, pubescent, glabrous on the lower part, becoming scabrous above, glaucous.

10. Shape of the internodes (in cross section):

  • Round, sulcate, plano-convex.

11. State of the internodes:

  • Hollow (indicate wall thickness), solid (indicate amount of pith).

12. Contents of the internodes (when hollow):

  • Empty, powder on inside walls, with liquid.

For more information see this article about: Bamboo Stem Anatomy


Identifying Bamboo Leaves

1. Habit of the leaves:

  • Stiff, flexuous, erect, pendent.

2. Color of the leaves:

  • Green on both surfaces, lighter on one surface than the other, variegated.

3. Shape of the leaves:

  • Lance-shaped, linear.

4. Size of the leaves:

  • Width and length

5. Vein structure :

  • Visible or invisible mid-rib, number of lateral veins, occurrence or absence of cross veins.

Identifying Bamboo Branches

1. Occurrence of the branches:

  • Upper nodes only, all nodes.

2. Habit and Length of the branches:

  • Main branches elongated and vine-like, upper branches angled upwards, lower reflexed.

3. Development of the branches:

  • Intravaginal, extravaginal, both intravaginal and extravaginal

4. Origin of the branches:

  • Produced at nodal line, produced above the nodal line, produced from a specialized process.

5. Number and Arrangement (branch complement):

  • Single branches, 2 sub-equal branches, 3 or more sub-equal branches, 1 dominant branch with further branches from the node, 1 dominant branch (sometimes remaining as a bud) with smaller subsidiary branches below or around it, or in apsidate arrangement without a central branch.

6. Posture of the branches at node:

  • Appressed, horizontal, angled upwards, angles downward.

7. Modifications:

  • Developing spines.

Identifying Bamboo Culm Sheaths

1. Duration of the culm sheaths on the culm:

  • Persistent, caducous, tardily deciduous.

2. Variability of the culm sheaths:

  • Same shape throughout culm, thin and long at top of the culm and wide and short at base of the culm, becoming smaller towards top of culm.

3. Color and Pattern of the culm sheaths (when fresh):

  • Mottled, striped.

4. Surface of the culm sheaths:

  • Glaucous, densely covered with hairs, glabrous.

5. Texture of the culm sheaths:

  • Hard, soft.

6. Posture of the culm sheath-blade:

  • Erect, reflexed, horizontal.

7. Duration of the culm sheath-blade on the sheath:

  • Remaining attached, falling.

Identifying Bamboo Inflorescence

1. Habit:

  • Erect, lax, drooping.

2. Occurrence:

  • Terminating leafy branches, occurring throughout a leafless plant.

3. Size:

  • Length and width.

4. Color:

  • Green, straw-colored, purple.


Image source: Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, JSTOR