A call for better bamboo observations (and some hints on how to do them)

Hi everybody,

I don’t know if this should be made in any particular form, so I’ll try my luck here : this is a call for better bamboo observations.

Bamboos are seemingly quite homogeneous in their general features and often observations of bamboos will show only some foliage and sometimes some eye-level section of the adult culm, which are far from sufficient to do the job.
Spring is the right time to observe and try to identify bamboos since identification is made from diagnostic features on the culm sheath (the “leaves” that grow directly on the sprouting culm, not on branches).

If you want to ID bamboos (or at least, make an observation with reasonable chances at getting an ID), here are the shots you should look for :

  1. a general view of the plant is always a good idea, even if not sufficient, but keep it part of your observation. Are the culms growing tightly (few centimeters away from each other) or more distantly (few decimeters to meters apart) ?

  2. look for the sprouting culm and take photos from the top of the culm (if visible) showing the culm sheaths at their opening point : we want to know if the blades are intricate, and if they are righteous or wavy, if there are some auricles (apendix at the basis of the blade), if there are oral setae (long, very conspicuous hairs at the separation between sheath and blade).

  3. look for a ready to fall* culm sheath : what is its color ? are they covered with small hairs or not ? do they have spots (yes or no, and if yes then are they homogeneous or of different sizes and shapes, are they dense or sparse), are the blade at the top of the sheath already upstanding or rather inclined downward ? If the sheath fell, is there a ring of hairs at the scar point ?

  • some bamboos don’t lose their culm sheath : look for older culms to see if the sheaths fell or not : that’s an important thing to notice.
  1. Try to spot the ligula : the membraneous nail-formed thing at the separation point between sheath and blade, on the inward side. We will want to see if it has got hairs, their relative length, if the ligula is intact of if it is rather lacerated, it’s length (height) and length to width ratio.

  2. have a look at the grown up culms : do the new ones have some kind of white powdering at the internodes ? do they have hairs on the young internode ? what is their color, do they have spots of other colors ? Are the older culms (generally 2 to 5 years old) of the same color ? How look the basal internode ? are there many little ones or only some gradually bigger ones ? are they swollen or not ? Are the node swollen ?

The call for better bamboo observations may be regarded world-wide, but since I live in Europe, I put up a project for Phyllostachys in Europa, since this genus seems to be the most planted one on the old continent and one which tends to “escape” easily from gardens or parks, don’t hesitate and join if you feel like it :
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/identifiable-phyllostachys-of-europa

The Flora of China is a good source for ID-keys, like this one for Phyllostachys :
http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=125246

Any other ressources you would like to share are very welcome.

Any comment on how to make this call better or reach a larger audience is also welcome.

I hope we can have a nice chat and discover many new things about bamboos.
Thank you for your attention !
Florent, from south-west France

[edit] PS : here is the journal post as a quick guide with photos to what to look for when observing Phyllostachys species.

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Hello Florent,

I think it would be a great idea to make a journal post on your profile with the criteria to use. It’s easier to share it to people who don’t have an iNaturalist forum account :)

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great info! Whenever I encounter bamboo I generally have no idea what to look out for or photograph

I second the idea of a journal post, and I think it would also be very useful to include some annotated/labelled photos to illustrate your explanations. Eg, I have no idea what intricate or righteous blades are meant to be, I’m struggling to picture the ligula in comparison to other features. Some images will help with this

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I was in Italy recently where I saw a bamboo and as I was photographing it I was thinking “I have absolutely no idea how to photograph this properly for identification purposes”. Please turn this into a journal post and share it with us here!

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I know that Bambusoideae are quite a nightmare to be identified. Anyway, those that can be found escaped from cultivation are much fewer than those living in their areas of origin. So I think thta it would be useful if someone could:

  • make a key for the commonest species found grwing wild as introduced from cultivation,
  • make a sort of visual guide through one or some observations with all the relevant diagnostic charcaters shown.
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Hi everybody,

thanks for your enthusiasm !

Here is the beginning of the desired journal article with photo guide :
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/identifiable-phyllostachys-of-europa/journal/94449-a-call-for-better-bamboo-observations-and-some-hints-on-how-to-do-them

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with @blue_celery 's view about the use of a key for “the commonest species found growing wild” since the rate of introduction is already high and will only become higher, so it’s quite difficult to list species introduced (and to which area ? not all people live in the same country) ;-)

For reference, Flora Europaea (Cambridge University Press 1980) listed (volume 5, p. 125) only 3 genera (Sasa, Arundinaria and Phyllostachys) and within Phyllostachys only 4 species (Ph. nigra, Ph. bambusoides = reticulata, Ph. aurea and Ph. viridiglaucescens).

I think it’s a better use to refer to the existing, freely accessible and quite well illustrated Flora of China which is believed to be quite exhaustive** (maybe not at all, but still a good one).
** at least it is stated so in the french “Flora Gallica” from 2014 wich lists as “commonly found growing wild” 8 species of Phyllostachys : Ph. viridiglaucescens, Ph. bambusoides (= Ph. reticulata), Ph. aureosulcata, P. nigra, Ph. aurea, Ph. viridis, Ph. flexuosa and Ph. violascens and mention there is “at least 40 other punctually cultivated in France”. Other bamboo genera treated in the keys for the french flora are : Arundinaria, Chimonobambusa, xPseudosasa, Sasa, Sasinaria, xSemiarundinaria and Shibataea.

NB : the famous Ph. edulis is stated by this bamboo lover to be quite demanding in term of soil conditions : only growing on very well drained soils, so it is very rare to found such conditions in France.

The otherwise excellent Flora Iberica does’nt treat (yet ?) Phyllostachys :-(

I don’t know if there is freely accessible ressources for other european countries (which ever language is used) ?

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So, what I’m gathering is:

  1. Take a habit photo with something for scale.
  2. Take detailed photos of the joints, maybe at multiple height as well, showing beneath + above textures / hairs etc.
  3. If there are leaves on the plant, photograph the insides and outsides where they connect.
  4. If there are fallen leaves, take photos of them too.

Is that about right?

also, is there any value in photographing dead stems on the ground, or in breaking open a stem (alive or dead) to see inside?

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Hi @astra_the_dragon !

  1. yes
  2. I’m not sure what you mean by “joint” ? If you mean the nodes on the stem, these are not (by far) the most important part to look at**. Aside to see if there is a crone of hairs after the fall of the sheath, and sometimes to tell if the sheath scar is bigger or thinner than the node itself.
    But if you meant the upper part of the sheath, at the “joining point” between sheath and sheath-blade, then yes. This is definitely the spot you want to look at !

** the identification keys that I knew (Flora of China & Flora Gallica) when I first answered this, made little use of the node’s features. But in between, I came upon this interesting guide for bamboo identification in NW Italy and it DOES use the node’s feature as identifying characters, so in the end, it seems that these are not so useless as I first thought.

If you didn’t yet, you may be interested in taking a look at my journal post which is like a photo guide to what to look for : https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/identifiable-phyllostachys-of-europa/journal/94449-a-call-for-better-bamboo-observations-and-some-hints-on-how-to-do-them

  1. be aware that bamboos have two kind of leaves : the “normal” ones that everyone would agree on that they are leaves, we find them at the end of the branches, but these are of few to no use in bamboo identification. The leaves we are interested in are the culm leaves, which don’t look like leaves at all : they are made of two parts : a big sheath embracing the culm, this part is rarely green, either straw or redish-brown colored, sometimes have hairs and spots of darker colors and is terminated at its upper part by the second part of the leaf : namely an imperfect “leaf blade” (just called sheath blade, or blade), which is more or less flatten, wavy or crinkled. At the “joining point” between sheath and blade there may be some appendices called “auricles” and or "oral setae (look at the journal post guide !).
    So the “normal” leaves at the end of the branches are of little interest, but these culm leaves : the sheath and its blade, are a very important part to look at when trying to ID Phyllostachys. Unluckily they fall quickly as the culm grow and are only visible during about one month in spring (at least on Phyllostachys, on other bamboo they may stay more or less permanently on the culm).

  2. fallen “normal” leaves are of no interest. fallen sheaths may be usefull if you have no longer access to fresh ones (by about +/- the middle or end of may, depending on where you live), but the diagnostic characters like oral setae, auricles and hair will quickly degrade once the sheath has fallen so don’t even try this later than june (this a very approximate guess).

dead stem on the ground are - to the extent of my actual knowledge - of no use for identification purposes. BUT on phyllostachys, if you have a good pruning shears you may want to cut a rhizome (the normally underground, but sometimes briefly emergent culms, which bear the roots) : a look at their section will show the presence or absence of some bigger air canals on the outmost ring of the section (unluckily I don’t have yet a photo of such). These air canals are a diagnostic feature, but it’s not easily accessible.

I hope I answered your questions.
have a nice day. I’ll be looking for your bamboos observations !

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For some bamboos, it is helpful to know if the stem is solid or hollow

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Hi @deboas ! Thank you for this input. Would you mind being a little bit more precise and tell us in which genera or species is it of relevance ? or which taxa do you had in mind while underlining this feature ? Thank you in advance !

Sure! Where I live in southern Brazil, it’s a useful feature to distinguish Chusquea bamboos (solid stems, also typically climbing and very fine) from Merostachys bamboos (hollow stems, typically a bit more robust). The other native genus here, Guadua, is much larger, with hollow stems and is protected by woody spines.

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