Bamboo is more than just an amazing plant. It’s more like an entire family, made up of nearly 2,000 plants. But technically, according to the botanical taxonomy, bamboo is actually a sub-family within the grass family, Poaceae.

The subfamily Bambusoideae includes 3 tribes, roughly 100 genera, and approximately 1,400 species of bamboo. Botanists don’t always agree on the classifications, so the numbers can vary. Furthermore, many species have multiple cultivars, or subspecies, so the total number of bamboo varieties is probably closer to 2,000.

In the following directory, we’ll break down the multitude of bamboos, genus by genus, to see how they all fit in the great web of life. Three separate tables, one for each bamboo tribe, will cover the most important genera of bamboo, according to the classifications that most botanists agree on.

NOTE: Many of the most popular and most important genera on these tables will include a link to a more in-depth article focussing on that particular genus.

Botanical taxonomy of bamboo

Before we launch into the genera (plural of genus) and species of bamboo, it’s useful to see where bamboo fits into the overall classification system.

  • Kingdom: Plant
  • Phylum: Angiosperms (flowering plants, as opposed to Gymnosperms, such as conifer trees)
  • Class: Monocots (their seeds contain one embryonic leaf, as opposed to Dicotyledons with two)
  • Order: Poales (includes grasses, sedges and bromeliads)
  • Family: Poaceae, aka Graminieae (grasses)
  • Subfamily: Bambusoideae (the bamboo family)
  • Tribes: Arundinarieae (temperate woody bamboo), Bambuseae (tropical woody bamboo), and Olyreae (herbaceous bamboo)
  • Sub-tribes: some botanists use this division to divide the bamboo tribes into smaller units.
  • Genus and Species: these are the two divisions that give us the binomial nomenclature, or scientific names of the plants, such as Phyllostachys nigra or Bambusa oldhamii.
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Tribe Arundinarieae: Genera of temperate woody bamboo

Primarily native to China and the Far East, but also in Africa and North America, temperate bamboos can generally tolerate colder temperates. They come in all sizes, from towering giants to dwarfish ground covers. The majority of Arundinarieae bamboos have running rhizome systems (as opposed to clumping), enabling them to spread and proliferate quickly.

However, a handful of temperate bamboos have clumping rhizomes, making them difficult to classify. Not everyone accepts the genus Borinda, for example, which can belong to either tribe. Also, Yushania has pachymorph (clumping) rhizomes, but with longer necks and a spreading habit, so botanists aren’t quite sure where to place it. Such bamboos grow in what we call “open clumps”.

Genus Native habitat zonesRunning or ClumpingNotes and characteristics
AcidosasaChina, Vietnamrunningknown for edible shoots, sweet and sour
ArundinariaNorth Americarunning3 American species, other species are questionable
BashaniaChina, Vietnamrunningcold hardy, mountain varieties
BorindaHimalayas, S Chinaclumpingclose relation to Fargesia (questionable)
ChimonobambusaChina, Japan, Himalayas, Vietnamrunningunusual culms, square and knobby
DrepanostachyumHimalayas, China, Indiaclumpingclose relation to Himalayacalamus
FargesiaChina, Vietnamclumpingextremely cold hardy
HimalayacalamusHimalayasclumpingmedium sized ornamentals
IndocalamusChina, Vietnam, Japanopen clumpssmaller plants, larger leaves
PhyllostachysChina, Vietnamrunninghardy, vigorous, in all sizes
PleioblastusChina, Japanrunningsmaller plants, often striped
PseudosasaChina, Japan, Vietnamrunningsmall to medium sized
SasaJapanrunningsmall plants, broad leaves
SasaellaJapanrunningsmaller plants
SemiarundinariaChina, Japanrunningtall and widespread
ShibataeaChinarunningsmall and ornamental
SinobambusaChina, Vietnamrunningmedium sized plants
ThamnocalamusHimalayas, Madagascar, S Africaclumpingclose relative to Fargesia
YushaniaHimalayas, Africa, Chinaopen clumpsmountainous, formerly in Bambuseae tribe

Dendrocalamus timber bamboo

Tribe Bambuseae: Genera of tropical woody bamboo

Found throughout the tropic and subtropic climate zones of the earth, tropical bamboos can be among the most impressive varieties. For the most part, they grow with a clumping habit, and are far less prone to becoming invasive. We find native populations in Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas, as well as such far flung corners as Madagascar and New Guinea.

Genus Native habitat zonesRunning or ClumpingNotes and characteristics
ArthrostylidiumCentral Americaclumping climbing growth habit
BambusaChina, Taiwan, India, SE Asia, N Australia, New Guinea clumpinghuge variety, 150 species
BorindaHimalayas, S Chinaclumpingdisputed classification
CathariostachysMadagascarclumping2 species, threatened by deforestation
CephalostachyumAsia, Madagascarclumpingsmall, medium sized plants
Chusquea Central and South Americaclumpingopen clumps, solid culms
DendrocalamusIndia, SE Asiaclumpinggiant timber varieties
DinochloaSE Asia, Philippinesclumpingclimbing, zigzag culms
GigantochloaChina, India, New Guineaclumpinggiant timber types
GuaduaCentral and South Americaclumpinggiant timber types
MelocannaIndia, SE Asiaclumpingmass flowering event
OlmecaMexicoclumpingopen clumps, fleshy fruits
Neomicrocalamus southern China, northern Indiaclumpingclimbing habit
OtateaMexico, Central Americaclumpingsmall, ornamentals
Oxytenantherasub-Saharan Africaclumpingdrought tolerant
SchizostachyumAsia, New Guinea, Madagascarclumpingmedium to large
ThyrsostachysChina, SE Asiaclumping large timber types

herbaceous bamboo banner

Tribe Olyreae: Tropical, herbaceous bamboo

This small tribe is more closely related to the tropical Bambuseae. They are something of a novelty and grow almost exclusively in the tropics of the New World, especially in the Amazon basin. Typically, they grow in the shady undergrowth of the jungles and rainforests. Unlike their woody cousins, these bamboos have soft, tender culms, and look more like small shrubs. They do not exhibit the same kinds of roots systems as their more developed relatives.

Botanists recognize 3 sub-tribes of herbaceous bamboo, and a total of 21 genera. Several of these genera are monotypic, meaning they only contain one species. These compact, exotic varieties have not been naturalized beyond their native habitats and are not grown by nurseries.

GenusNative habitatSub-tribeNotes
AgnesiaBrazil, Colombia, PeruOlyrinaemonotypic (only one species)
ArberellaCentral and South AmericaOlyrinaeincludes 7 species
BuergersiochloinaeSouth America, Africa, MadagascarBuergersiochloinaemonotypic
Cryptochloathroughout Latin AmericaOlyrinae8 species
DiandrolyraBrazilOlyrinae3 species
EkmanochloaCubaOlyrinae2 species
FroesiochloaBrazil, the GuianasOlyrinaemonotypic
LithachneMexico to Paraguay, and CubaOlyrinae4 species
MaclurolyraPanama, ColombiaOlyrinaemonotypic
OlyraNeotropics and AfricaOlyrinae24 species
ParianaLatin AmericaParianinae29 species
ParodiolyraSouth AmericaOlyrinae6 species
RaddiaBrazil, the GuianasOlyrinae9 species
RaddiellaPanama, South AmericaOlyrinae8 species
RehiaBrazil, the GuianasOlyrinaemonotypic
SucreaBrazilOlyrinae3 species
Bamboo Infographic Genus Geography
Genus by genus, bamboo around the world. (From our series of Bamboo Infographics.)

Further reading

If you’ve found this genus by genus directory of bamboo useful and interesting, you might also check out some of these other popular articles.