Many plants are mistaken for bamboo, some look similar to bamboo but others don’t look anything like bamboo. Here are some of the most common plants mistakenly identified as bamboo.
Lucky Bamboo – Dracaena sanderiana
I’m sorry this plant was ever introduced to this country. I have received many emails asking about how to care for this plant. I used to answer but it has become such a burden that I’m sorry to say I usually just delete them now. This plant has some resemblance to bamboo with a jointed stem but is not a bamboo. It is usually grown in a container of water with pebbles. It is often seen in Asian restaurants. It is now available in Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, flea markets – you name it. If you do a search for Lucky Bamboo you will be overwhelmed with the number of results.
Japanese Knotweed – Polygonum cuspidatum (sometimes known as Mexican Bamboo)
Japanese Knotweed is a perennial that spreads by rhizomes. It has stems that are jointed somewhat like bamboo. This, along with it’s rapid spread is probably why it is sometimes mistaken for bamboo. However, it has heart shaped leaves and creamy white flowers. It can reach 5 to 10 feet in heigth and produces new canes each spring forming a dense thicket. The dead stems and leaves decompose slowly and form a thick mulch which, along with the dense growth, prevent other plant seeds from germinating. The rhizomes can spread up to 20 feet from the parent plant and as deep as 8 feet. It forms a rapidly spreading mono-culture and is considered an invasive pest. It can reproduce from very small pieces of the rhizome or fresh stems. You can find lots of information about this plant by doing a search for Japanese Knotweed. Here are a few links.
Plant Conservation Alliance
USDA National Invasive Species Informataion Center
Heavenly Bamboo – Nandina domestica
I’m not sure why this plant is sometimes mistaken for bamboo. It has woody stems, white flowers, and red berries in the fall. I suppose the very erect, straight stems are the reason but they are not jointed and are usually brown and woody looking. A nice shrub but not realated to bamboo.
Giant Reed – Arundo donax
This plant has canes much like bamboo but the leaves are long and tapered and attach directly to the canes(not to limbs that attach to cane). The canes will easily sprout new plants from the nodes and the rhizomes are easily divided to produce new plants. I’ve had this growing beside a pond and canes that fall over into the water routinely sprout new plants at each node on the cane. It has become a pest in many areas and has invaded many rivers in California. It has a large seed head at the end of each growing season. The canes are used to make reeds for musical instruments and the variegated form makes a pretty landscape plant.
Horsetail – Equisetum hyemale
The stems of this plant superficially resemble bamboo due to colored bands that appear to be nodes, much like a bamboo cane. It grows in wet areas and makes a pretty addition to a water garden or bog. It is often called the Scouring Rush as it’s high silica content make it ideal for scrubbing pans and polishing metal. This plant has also become an invasive pest in many parts of California. It is sold in most nurseries in the water garden section. I have both a dwarf form and a very large form growing beside my pond.
The Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii or C. erumpens) is sometimes mistaken for bamboo. Probably because the stems have white stripes that resemble bamboo’s nodes.