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CPIE Notebook Project - Grasses and Sedges of Hawai‘i Grass Key – Page 3

Key to Subfamily Bambusoideae

photo of bamboo

Bamboos are certainly distinctive as grasses; few would mistake these plants for any other grass. However, they can be difficult to distinguish. Species look generally similar and either flower rarely or not at all in Hawai‘i. Planted bamboos can be persistent in an area, leading one to assume a naturalized status for an old ornamental planting. Only three species are thought to be naturalized in Hawai‘i, and "common" bamboo is not included; Wagner, Herbst, & Sohmer (1990) treat only two species. One (‘ohe Hawai‘i) may be indigenous, but is more likely an early Polynesian introduction. The following key is based entirely on vegetative characteristics, which can be somewhat variable in some species and between wild and cultivated individuals of the same species.

24a (1
& 10 & 17)
bamboo stem and two branches

Culm (Stem) with a distinct flattening on one side extending well above where branches emerge above nodes and thus 'D'-shaped in cross-section. Usually two branches(sometime a weak third) arising at each node. { Running bamboos, spreading by underground rhizomes, new culms arising a few feet apart from old culms and eventually forming expansive thickets

Figure 2B. Note flattened face on culm above branches
on this Phyllostachys bamboo.


Culm without a distinct flattening on one side above the nodes, round in cross-section. Usually three or more small branches emerging at a node. Sheath blade (part at tip of sheath; see Fig. 2E) broad, length less than 2X width. { Clumping bamboos (forming dense clumps that spread slowly outward), new culms arising close to old culms

25a (24) stem of P. nigra
Joints (nodes) prominent, main (lower) ring at node fringed with dense purplish or (if faded) brownish hairs (Fig. 2C). { Tree-like, stiff erect culms to 8 m (25 ft) in height; culms green, olive, yellow, black, or purple—or green with black markings

Figure 2C. Fringe of purple hairs at node are distinctive of new growth of Phyllostachys nigra.


Joints prominent, but without dense hairs; usually a whitish, waxy band below node (see Fig. 2B). Shrubby, culms arching, rising between 4 and 15 feet (1 to 5 m); culms, green to yellow. Dwarf bamboo, golden bamboo. [NAT ORN]

Phyllostachys aurea A. & C. Rivière
26a (25) { Culms green, typically forming open (in places very extensive) stands with erect culms evenly spaced at 1 to 2 m (3-6 ft) apart. Henon bamboo. (Fig. 2C) [NAT]
Phyllostachys nigra var. henionis (Mitf.) Rendele

26b { Culms black or with black markings. Black bamboo. (Fig. 2B) [ORN]
Phyllostachys nigra var. nigra

27a (24) Leaves linear, about 1/8 inch wide (see Fig. 2F, below). Culm walls thick, center opening tiny. { Weeping bamboo. (Fig. 2F) [ORN]

Otatea acuminata (Munro) C. E. Smith

27b Leaves lance-shaped, 1/4 to over 1 inch wide (see Fig. 1B). Culm walls thick or thin, but center opening usually large

28a (27) Each node with two rings, main one (sheath scar) below and second one above at base of branches, this upper ring sometimes only a swelling around culm. Usually three prominent side branches at a node, but can be many. Bambusa

28b Culm with one ring-like scar at each node. Several to many, subequal side branches emerge at each node. Culms green, up to 2.5 inches (6 cm) wide at base. { A large clumping bamboo, forming expansive stands in wet areas. ‘Ohe Hawai‘i, "native" bamboo. [POL?]
Schizostachyum glaucifolium (Rupr.) Munro

29a (28) Stems swollen or expanded between nodes. Rare nursery plant. Buddah bamboo. [ORN]
Bambusa ventricosa McClure

29b Stems NOT swollen or expanded between nodes

30a (29) Closeup of B. vulgaris Culms up to 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter at base, golden yellow with (typically) distinctive dark green vertical stripes (see Fig. 2D and Fig. 2B, below). { A very large, clumping bamboo. Golden bamboo, common bamboo. [ORN]

Bambusa vulgaris J. C. Wendl. 'Vittata'

Figure 2D. Distinctive large stem of Bambusa vulgaris. Note double ring at node not apparent in these large stems.


Culms less than 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Leaves whitish on undersides. { Plant shrubby, culms to 15 feet (5 m), often arching. Dwarf bamboo, hedge bamboo [ORN]

Bambusa multiplex (Lour.) J.A. & J.H. Schultes


Bamboo species not included in key found growing in botanical and private gardens in Hawai‘i (mahalo to F. & K. Starr; Rauch & Weissich, 2000) [ORN]:

    Bambusa glaucophylla Widjaja – dwarf Malay bamboo
    Bambusa lako Widjaja – Timor black bamboo
    Bambusa malingensis McClure – Maling bamboo
    Bambusa oldhamii Munro – Oldham's bamboo, giant timber bamboo
    Bambusa textilis McClure – Weaver's bamboo
    Bambusa vulgaris 'Wamin' Brandis ex McClure – Wamin bamboo
    Chusquea coronalis Söderst & Calderón– Costa Rican weeping bamboo
    Dendrocalamus asper (Schult.) Backer – giant bamboo
    Dendrocalamus brandesii (Munro) Kurz – velvet leaf bamboo
    Dendrocalamus membranaceus Munro – Pai Saang bamboo
    Gigantochloa atroviolacea Widjaja – tropical black bamboo, Java black bamboo
    Gigantochloa atter Widjaja – tropical black bamboo
    Guadua angustifolia Kunth – Columbian thorny bamboo
    Nastus elatus Holttum – nastus bamboo
    Pleioblastus viridistriatus (Regel) Makino– dwarf striped bamboo
    Schizostachyum brachycladum L. – sacred Bali bamboo
    Thyrostachys siamensis Gamble – monastery bamboo


Bambusa sheaths Phyllostachys stem and two branches Otatea acuminata

Fig. 2E. Lower portion of culm of Bambusa vulgaris with two sheaths, showing upper blade part of sheath is broad (less than twice length). (3.7 MB).

Fig. 2B. Main stem node with side branches of the running bamboo, Phyllostachys aurea, showing waxy ring below node and flattened culm above node. (3.6 MB). Fig. 2F. Weeping bamboo, Otatea acuminata, culm with leaves. Note exceptionally narrow (linear) leaves. (5.3 MB).

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