There are several plants out there that are often mistaken for bamboo or that act as “bamboo imposters”. Today, I thought I would go over some of the most common bamboo-like plants – just for the fun of it.
The most popular plant that looks like bamboo is Lucky Bamboo. Yes, it is confusing – I know. There are some other plants as well that have similarities with the fastest growing grass in the world – bamboo.
Before we take a look at them, let’s see what characteristics bamboo has in order to separate all these plants from each other!
What characteristics have
So, what makes bamboo a bamboo? Bamboo belongs to the grass family, also known as Poaceae. There are 91 genera of bamboo documented.
The stem, or culm, is jointed with solid nodes. The color of the culms depends on the species. It can be lush green, black, dark green, yellow, light green, or red
The culms grow from rhizomes. There are two different types of bamboos, which is depending on the rhizomes. Running bamboo develops horizontal stems underground. This one spreads very far and fast. Then there is clumping bamboo, which only grows upwards from a simple rhizome.
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Most species grow branches on culm nodes. The number and position of branches depends on the species.
Although bamboo is called the evergreen plant, it still loses its foliage every year. This is another reason why people believe bamboos are trees. Bamboo leaves are lance-shaped and linear.
Bamboo flowers irregularly. There
6 bamboo-like plants commonly confused with bamboo
So, what are these bamboo imposters? Why do people confuse them with bamboo? Let’s have a look at these plants that are commonly mistaken for bamboo.
Lucky Bamboo or Dracaena sanderiana
If you want to start a heated conversation with a botanist or bamboo geek, say that Lucky Bamboo is bamboo. Expect a long lecture about the characteristics of bamboo and how Lucky Bamboo is not part of this plant group.
I’ll keep it short for you: Lucky Bamboo or million bamboo is a completely different plant. The scientific name is Dracaena Sanderiana. It grows on the bottom of the rainforest floor in Africa and it is typically a house plant used as a Feng Shui cure. It is also a typical “good luck” gift and the number of stems has a symbolism
It can get 2-3 ft (1 m) tall indoors and even taller outdoors.
I really like Lucky Bamboo so I’ve included it on this website. However, I keep it mostly separate from the real bamboo. You can read all about Lucky Bamboo plants here.
Heavenly bamboo or Nandina domestica
This plant really doesn’t look much like real bamboo, maybe the leaves come close to the bamboo leaves. It is, in fact, a shrub that grows bright red berries after flowering white in spring.
Heavenly Bamboo, also known as Nandina Domestica, comes from Eastern Asia. It is now considered an invasive species in Southern states because it is very drought tolerant and tough.
Although it is an attractive plant that has a beautiful foliage color, it is toxic to many animals, including birds (and potentially humans). Read more here. In fall, the leaves will turn reddish-purple and the red berries stay until winter.
Giant Reed/Cane or Arundo Donax
I totally get why people get Giant Reed mixed up with bamboo (reeds, in general, kinda look similar)
Horsetail, also known as Snake Grass and Puzzle Grass, is native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It grows well in swamp-like conditions (unlike bamboo). The name suggests that it belongs to the grass family but it doesn’t. Snake grass belongs to the vascular plants, which also include ferns, for example.
To the undiscerning eye, it may look like small bamboo plants. It has nodes like bamboo but no foliage.
You can grow Bamboo Palm in containers or in the garden. It can grow up to 20ft tall when planted outside and under perfect conditions.
Japanese Knotweed or Polygonum cuspidatum
Although the heart-shaped leaves of Polygonum cuspidatum aren’t similar to bamboo leaves, it is sometimes mistaken for it.
Japanese knotweed, also known as Mexican Bamboo, spreads via rhizomes just like bamboo and the jointed stems look similar to bamboo. It is pretty invasive as its rhizomes can travel over 20 ft (6 m) to shoot up a new stem. It creates creamy-white flowers.
There are lots of other plants that might be mistaken for bamboo, but these are big ones. I think, if you like a plant that looks like bamboo, there’s no reason you can’t grow it or cultivate it to your liking. Just be careful to properly identify the plant and make sure you are not spreading an invasive or toxic species!