How to identify bamboo
The best way to identify bamboos depends upon time available, location, botanical knowledge and interest, and also the accuracy required. Different avenues can be pursued, pick one the 7 methods given below. Some problems to bear in mind include the use of different names in books, nurseries and collections, and inaccurate or missing labels/names on plants and in photos. In addition the taxonomy is still in a primitive state relative to most other plants. A substantial proportion of bamboos collected in the wild still cannot be identified, but cultivated species are becoming better known. More...
... More Photos of cultivated bamboos are coming onto the internet thick and fast, but they vary in quality. Drawings are usually highly accurate and reliable, but are few and far between, and usually strictly copyright, but drawings of Chinese bamboos from the Flora of China Project should be available in 2008. Descriptions are getting better, but still often somewhat disappointing in detail and comparability. Living collections are inspiring but often mislabelled. Keys have a habit of requiring information on unavailable plant parts. Herbarium material is often fragmentary or locked away. Books are available, but names in them can be of date. Asking specialists will often result in different names from different people. All methods of identification currently have some drawbacks, and there is a pressing need to work on them all to improve the quality of available information on how to identify bamboos.
The Cultivated Bamboos section of this site is an ongoing project aiming to improve currently available descriptions and combine them with close-up photos of the most important characters. It is hoped that this will make it easier to identify bamboos in the long run. The work ought to be combined with studies of the bamboos in their native habitats, and will require taxonomic and nomenclatural investigations, so it may take some time to complete. Funding is required for this work.
In order to know how to identify bamboos accurately, it is necessary to understand the morphology and the terms that are used to describe the different organs. If you are serious about identification, then a hand lens, or jeweller’s loupe, is a very useful tool indeed. To check the kind of details given in good close up photos or keys, unaided eyesight is often not sufficient, especially for the smaller, temperate bamboos. The folding type are most pocketable and readily available on eBay. Don’t worry about quality. Even the cheapest ones with plastic lenses make a dramatic difference, especially for older eyes. A magnification of x10 is perfect for seeing bamboo details. With one of these, anyone can quickly learn how to identify a bamboo. It will also be useful for identifying many other plants from details that have often evolved to please or deter the close attention of the tiny eyes of insects.