Bamboo is native to Asia and East Asia, although numerous varieties exist all across the earth. Bamboo grows fast and remains robust. However, many people fear growing bamboo in their gardens because it is invasive if ignored. To overcome these problems, we should understand that bamboo trees have two classifications as we explore the different types of bamboo.
Running bamboo means the rhizomes (stems that grow underground and can produce new roots and plants) spread in different directions up to 6 meters in length. Rhizomes can extend over a large area when you don’t contain them because they are shallow and often grow outwards, and can cause trouble for surrounding vegetation.
Clumping bamboo is the opposite of running bamboo. Rhizomes of this type of bamboo grow tightly together. They also grow out of the soil to form a group of culms (above-ground stems).
Further reading: Because bamboo grows fast, often without fertilizer, and uses less water than crops like cotton, it is popular as a raw material for sustainable fabrics and goods. You can read more about bamboo and sustainability, how they make bamboo fabric, and explore some of our recommendations for eco-friendly bamboo products:
Bamboo has over 1000 different species of and 91 genera. Jointed woody stems are common across this group of tall grasses3, widely cast as one of the world's fastest-growing and most versatile plants. Here we have featured 19 of the more popular and well-known, as well as looking to illustrate the diversity of the bamboo plant across size, color, and growth patterns.
Black Bamboo is a subfamily of grasses with up to 1500 other species and subspecies.
Tropical black bamboo is a tropical bamboo plant native to Indonesia and Java. Its scientific name is Gigantochloa atroviolacea.
Tropical black bamboo is a medium-sized bamboo grass with a height of 8-12m. It has a dense clump with walls up to 8mm thick. Young culms are dark-green, but they switch to a shade of purplish-black when fully grown. Tropical black bamboo thrives in loamy soil and clay loom. In Java, residents mostly use it to make furniture and diverse musical instruments.
The Japanese arrow bamboo, also referred to as Pseudosasa japonica, is an ornamental running bamboo species endemic to Japan and Korea. It is also a non-invasive species. The bamboo tree got its name from Japanese samurai warriors because they used it to craft arrow spears. However, in this modern day, we rarely use bamboo to craft weapons, but it is a beautiful decorative plant.
Arrow bamboo can grow up to 20ft tall. It has thin culms and is unsuitable for construction because its maximum thickness is one inch. However, it is good enough for small craft projects. The leaves on arrow bamboo are large, growing up to 12inches long and 1.5inches wide. Arrow bamboo thrives in cold and mild climate conditions.
Buddha belly bamboo's scientific name is Bambusa ventricosa. This evergreen bamboo type originates from the province of Guangdong, China, and Vietnam, and we can find it today in different parts of the world. Buddha belly bamboo is famous for its swollen internodes, which occur when you cultivate it under rough conditions. Some say that it resembles the fat belly of Buddha.
The Buddha Belly’s swollen clumps make it suitable for bonsai cultivation. It can grow up to 55ft tall, but when you plant it in a container, it grows up to 8ft tall. It grows well in moist soils and can also survive harsh conditions. Its swollen internodes
Guadua bamboo is one of the most popular types of bamboo in America out of all the different types of bamboo available. Guadua Angustifolia is a Neotropical genus of the timber bamboo family with over 30 species. These species are endemic to northern Mexico, Trinidad, and Uruguay. However, you'll mostly find them in bamboo forests in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. They prefer fertile and moist soil and grow in temperatures ranging from 17° to 26°C.
Guadua bamboo benefits us because its unique underground root systems help fix the environment's carbon emissions and prevent soil erosion. Reports also show that bamboo constructions can be indestructible by earthquakes1.
Chilean bamboo is a clumping bamboo species with the scientific name Chusquea culeou. It originates from South America, spreading from Valdivian forests to humid Chile and Argentina forests. This type of bamboo can control some forest structures and disrupt the regeneration of trees. Chilean bamboo grows in loamy, well-drained soil and reaches up to 8m. People mostly plant it domestically for hedging and decorative purposes.
Bambusa bamboo is endemic to tropical and temperate Asia. However, other places like Central America, West Indies, Java, Malaysia, Seychelles, and the Philippines assimilated them into the environments. It thrives in tropical and subtropical areas and can't survive in cold conditions.
Giant thorny bamboo is a spiny, clumping bamboo species. It's rather tall, with bright green colors. It can grow up to 35m, but its culms, with a maximum thickness of 5cm, bend towards the top. People use thorny bamboo leaves for thatching roofs. We can also use them for bridge construction and ladder making.
River cane is a species of Arundinaria bamboo plant. This bamboo type grows around river banks and streams. Arundinaria gigantea prefers moist loamy soil, usually in a pine forest. It has dense roots, and it helps control erosion. Also, it protects our environment by absorbing nitrogen fertilizer used on the earth before it enters nearby water bodies.
However, there is a chance that we will lose the benefits of the river cane bamboo because of extinction. There is a notable decline in the river cane population due to overgrazing and commercial agriculture. A unique behavior of this bamboo type is its flowering patterns. It can take up to 30-40 years for it to flower.
The Japanese timber bamboo, binomial name Phyllostachys bambusoides, is a type of running bamboo with a length of 20m. Also known as Japanese cane bamboo, Its culms are about 10cm thick. From its name, you can tell that it is native to Japan and China. You will find long and broad green leaves about 17cm long on its thick culms. It grows best under partial shade and maximum sun exposure.
Japan is the highest cultivator of timber bamboo trees. Its flowering intervals last for 120 years. Japanese people primarily refer to the giant bamboo tree as a madake. They use it in construction as a building material because of its durability. Also, they use it to make shakuhachi flutes, baskets, fans, and food wrappings.
Painted bamboo are bamboo trees that grow in tropical or subtropical climates and is native to Asia. Bambusa vulgaris 'vittata' is a non-invasive bamboo species with bright lemon-yellow culms, about 7cm wide, with green stripes scattered randomly. Its brightly colored culms make it a distinguished ornamental plant.
It survives in well-drained, moist soil. It also thrives under direct sun exposure and partial shade. The bamboo plant grows fast and doesn't require a high maintenance culture. It has a height of about 15m, with an arching behavior. Also, it has long leaves like most bamboo trees, measured at 20cm.
Fish pole bamboo is a running bamboo type with compressed internodes. Due to its compact internodes, the bamboo plant has a short height. However, it grants it thicker culms. The bamboo plant has a maximum height of 8m, and its culms are about 2.5cm wide. It grows best in an open position with rich, well-drained soil.
Phyllostachys aurea unique qualities won the Garden Merit Award from the Royal Horticultural Society. It is one of the cold hardy types, and drought resistant with bright green culms. Pole bamboo plants are invasive species native to Japan and China, but you can find them in the US and Australia. They also use them to produce walking sticks and umbrella handles.
Umbrella bamboo, also known as fargesia murielae, is a bamboo plant with greenish-yellow canes. It is a non-invasive bamboo species native to China. The clumping bamboo grows best in wet soils and can grow up to 450cm tall and 150cm wide. Although it can tolerate sunlight, its leaves get damaged when exposed to intense sunlight.
Umbrella bamboo plants can withstand cold temperatures excellently. Umbrella bamboo is an excellent choice for city gardens, hedges, and pond areas among different bamboo plants. It doesn't lose all its leaves at the end of the growing season. Instead, it sprouts new leaves at the start of the next season.
Beechey Bamboo, also known as Bambusa beecheyana, is native to Southern China. It has a height of 16 meters and a diameter measuring 100mm. Its thick culms make it suitable for construction projects. It also has edible shoots that people cook for food, although they may be slightly bitter.
Chinese Dwarf bamboo is a bamboo clumping species native to China. Its binomial name is Bambusa guangxiensis. Horticulturists state that Bambusa guangxiensis is an excellent hedging bamboo because of its fast growth rate. So to keep it fluffy and rounded, you should trim it at least twice a year. However, planting it on a small garden bed also controls how high it grows.
It grows up to 8m and has a diameter of 4cm. Its preferred habitat is tropical and subtropical areas. This type of bamboo can also grow in protected temperate regions where direct sunlight doesn't affect it. A Chinese dwarf plant is easy to grow because it requires low maintenance. Also, it is drought tolerant.
Burmese bamboo is a tropical plant native to Bangladesh, China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Bambusa polymorpha has a maximum height of 25m and a maximum diameter of 15cm. Young culms have greyish-green color, and dark-brown hairs cover their shoots. Its lance-shaped leaves are up to 17cm long.
Burmese bamboo prefers sub-humid areas. The plant thrives on well-drained and fertile loamy soil. Burmese's versatility makes it unique; people use it as raw materials for construction, handcrafted projects, paper pulp, and board making. Furthermore, it is an edible plant. It produces edible shoots, which have a sweet flavor.
Wang Tsai bamboo is one of the bamboo varieties with colorful canes and dark-green foliage. It has a height of 3 meters and is about 1.5 meters wide. It thrives when it's under partial shade or full sun. Furthermore, it can survive in any type of soil. However, it won't grow excessively in wet or dry soil; it needs a well-drained habitat.
Wang Tsai bamboo grows fast and has low maintenance requirements. You only have to trim it occasionally to maintain its freshness and control its growth. People cultivate this bamboo type as an informal hedge, privacy screen, and backdrop for smaller plants.
Giant timber bamboo, also known as Bambusa oldhamii, has dense foliage. The United States and other parts of the world grow this type of bamboo in large quantities. The giant bamboo is a tall plant growing up to 20 meters with culms around 10cm thick2. Despite the thickness of the bamboo's culm, it is also soft. Its other attributes include its non-invasive behavior.
The giant bamboo can't grow well in a miniature contained environment. It thrives well in outdoor, fertile spaces. They need a steady diet of fertilizers to keep up with their fast growth. Giant bamboo is endemic to the island of Taiwan and Southern China. However, other parts of the world, like Australia, California, Florida, Hawaii, Texas, and Puerto Rico, were introduced into their agricultural system.
Fernleaf bamboo is an ornamental tree with small leaves on slender canes. It is an excellent indoor plant choice because of its small and compact size. Its leaves are yellow during spring, but they are green during any other period.
Its maximum height is 3 meters. Also, multiple small stems covered with leaves emerge all over their culms. People value fernleaf bamboo because it is an excellent deer-resistant hedge. However, it needs sunlight for a healthy growth process and doesn't do so well in a cold climate system. Like other bamboo trees, this type of bamboo is also native to China.
Alphonse Karr bamboo is an exquisite-looking bamboo with its bright golden-yellow colored canes. Under direct sunlight, the golden-colored culms transform to orange-red. As it ages, the color deepens into a dark shade of golden yellow. The bamboo culms are about 5cm wide.
People cultivate this non-invasive bamboo species because of its adaptability and beauty. It can survive in almost all climate conditions. Mature bamboo plants have a height of about 8m, while their luscious leaves are about 18cm long. Alphonse Karr has a fast growth process, reaching adulthood with 24 months of consistent nurturing.
Pleioblastus viridistriatus is distinct, with a green stripe in the middle of its shoots near the base of otherwise yellow canes and sometimes stripes to the edges. Sometimes red when young and adorned with glossy green leaves, these bamboo species are popular for hedges and indoors as ornamental bamboo.
The benefits of bamboo trees to our environment cannot be overemphasized. Not only do the various bamboo plant types beautify our homes, gardens, and forests, but they also protect our environment. Apart from the types of bamboo mentioned here, there are still many more.
Sara Nakasone, (December 13, 2013). Bamboo: An Alternative Movement. University of Southern California (USC)
D. Ohrnberger, (January 29, 1999). The Bamboos of the World.
Liese, W., & Köhl, M. (Eds.). (2015). Bamboo: the plant and its uses. Springer.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.