Bamboo – easy to grow, but just as easy to identify? Believe it or not, there are hundreds of species of bamboo that grow in the wild, and they can be categorised according to where they grow. For example, some grow in tropical zones whilst others prefer cold regions. However, you might be sat looking at your own potted wonder, thinking ‘what kind of bamboo plant do I have, anyway?’
In this guide, I’ll take you through the basics of telling bamboo species apart, and which are most likely to be available for you to grow and propagate in your own home.
How many types of bamboo are there?
There are more than 1,600 known types of bamboo growing wild right now! This staggering number is due to individual species’ evolution and adaptation to a variety of conditions.
Don’t worry – I won’t be taking you through all known species in this guide. However, I’ll share with you the types of bamboo plants you’re likely to find in garden centres and growing in your back garden.
What does bamboo look like?
Bamboo is a form of grass that grows tall and strong, often facilitated by impressive culms. Culms are the stems which form in segments, linked by joints called nodes – and these segments are often called ‘internodes’. Still with me?
Bamboo culms can be either hollow or solid, and leaves are normally formed along these culms. Depending on their native home, bamboo can be tall, leggy with thick culms, and several inches in diameter.
Bamboo can easily reach over 70 feet tall in height – and can grow to be extremely strong, too! In fact, they are so robust in some countries, they are used to help build natural scaffolding!
Other species of bamboo, however, may be stout – or may even have a more delicate appearance. A fundamental way to identify your small bamboo plant is to inspect its root system. Larger bamboo plants, however, can usually be identified from the surface alone.
Identifying bamboo – what are clumpers and runners?
The simplest way to categorise bamboo is to identify how it grows – and there are two growth patterns that the plant will normally follow, known as clumping and running. Whichever species of bamboo you have, it will be either a ‘clumper’ or a ‘runner’!
Identifying a clumper
Mature bamboo clumpers are easy to identify. They grow outwards from a central source – for example, If you inherit a bamboo screen or hedge, it’s likely to be formed from clumper plants.
They are deliberately planted in rows to form screens, windbreaks and create private areas – both inside and outdoors. The roots of clumpers spread outwards from a central core – imagine an upside-down deciduous tree, for example!
Clumpers can be rampant spreaders and grow exceptionally well on the vertical. In pots, barrels and tubs, their spread will become naturally restricted by containment. Shoots on outer extremes will struggle as they compete for nutrients if this is the case. This means you should prune the group and lift cuttings if possible. They should be replanted swiftly or kept in water until you decide where to put them.
Unchecked, clumpers can spread fast. When nutrients are in full supply, they make attractive natural boundaries. It’s why they are a popular choice for city developers to use to divide car parks! In gardens, they make great dividers, separating a vegetable patch or hiding a compost heap. In the home, you might even use a clumper screen to create your own shower divider!
Identifying a runner
Types of running bamboo are easy to identify. Runners produce upward facing culms – much like clumpers – but in a more spasmodic way. Runners are known to have leptomorph or monopodial rhizomes, which travel underground to produce independent stems. Culms then spring forth from stems in many different directions – they are amazing to look at!
Runners are more easily influenced by disruptive factors or natural obstacles, and are more susceptible to nutrient change compared to clumpers. As a result, the growth of runners can appear less uniform or regular – however, they can be equally prolific and often easier to manage!
Ultimately, runners tend to grow more haphazardly – while clumpers will grow and build into uniform stalks and structures. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet – meaning it shouldn’t be too long before you know which plant you’re working with!
Five types of bamboo you can plant at home
Now you know a little bit more about bamboo growth, now’s the time to get into the most common types of bamboo you’ll be able to grow indoors and figure out what kind of bamboo plant you have. Do any of the below species of bamboo sound familiar?
Scottish Bamboo (Phyllostachys rubromarginata)
This is an attractive bamboo with large, lush leaves – it’s really popular with interior gardeners, and despite the name, you can pick some up from pretty much anywhere in the UK that retails bamboo species.
It is easy to identify because it has long, thin, ruby red lines along its stalks. It works great as a backdrop against white, red, pink or even pale blue flowers – it’s pretty safe to say this Bamboo makes for an interesting and colourful show.
Aureocaulis Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata)
This similarly popular home bamboo plant has striking pink colouring covering new shoots when they emerge – fairly eye-popping!
It is also known as ‘corduroy bamboo’ because its believed parts of it resemble the texture of the fabric. This is an interesting variety of bamboo that’s good to pep up an indoor vase of cut flowers.
Nuda (Phyllostachys nuda)
Nuda bamboo is commonly found in colder regions – making it a great plant pick if you live in the chillier reaches. It has a more bushy, stocky appearance compared to other types of bamboo.
Nuda is a reliable plant but may take a little longer to perk up in spring, taking its time to come around from extremely cold temperatures. Once it gets going, your patience will be rewarded with an abundance of leaves – and it’s great for screens, too. It’s one of the hardiest of the species, so be sure to pot up if you really want your bamboo to last!
Golden Stripe Bamboo (Phyllostachys moso)
This beautiful bamboo species has a vibrant, variegated foliage with golden highlights – hence the name! It’s also identified by its sharp shoots which have multiple points.
Structurally more complicated than some other bamboos, this one looks great planted with complementary colours of darker browns, cool blue flowers or hot reds and orange petals. It’s superb for cut displays in a vase, too!
Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
This is a trendy marketing name for what is usually an indoor bamboo. Often sold as a bundle to be kept in water, many believe that – hence the name – bamboo will bring them a spot of luck or two.
The idea of using bamboo as an indoor decoration has certainly taken off, and it’s partly thanks to this popular and easy-to-grow species. Lucky bamboo will eventually sprout roots and can be planted in soil if you wish. It is light green with an equally light to mid green stem, which can grow to diameters of around 1.5cm. It can become quite tall and/or bush out – you never know your luck!
Lucky bamboo can make for a super gift, work well as a great display plant and can tolerate some gentle sun – as well as a high level of humidity. Great in vases displayed in kitchens, bathrooms or sitting rooms, this is a super plant to experiment with. Why not try training it around a wire coat hanger?
Given how many bamboo types there are out in the world, you’d probably be forgiven for thinking that identifying your own bamboo species is a bit of a fearsome task. However, as you can see, it’s not normally too tricky to tell species of bamboo apart. The key is to look closely at the colours, the thickness, and the growth pattern.
Regardless – bamboo is a fast-growing, highly rewarding houseplant I think you’ll have a lot of fun with. Why not look out for some of the different types of bamboo listed above and see how you get on?