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: This article first appeared in November 2020, most recently updated in February 2024.

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, Japanrunningsmaller 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

Genus Arundinaria

This genus is notable for containing the only three species of bamboo native to the continental United States. Formerly, the genus had included several other species, but most authors now recognize only three American bamboos as belonging to Arundinaria.

Genus Fargesia

One of the more exceptional groups of bamboo, Fargesia are dense clumpers but some of the most cold-hardy of any species. In a temperate climate they are something of a gardener’s delight. Can can withstand deep freezes without growing invasive. And many species also have colorful culms of powdery blue or burgundy-pink.

Fargesia murielae clumping bamboo
Fargesia thrives in the chilly climes of Germany. (Photo by Fred Hornaday)

Genus Indocalamus

These medium-sized and slower running bamboos are somewhat unusual, but I. latifolius is an attractive ornamental with slender culms and a compact footprint. I. tessellatus is remarkable for its giant leaves and low stature, making for an interesting hedge.

Indocalamus latifolius Hornaday
Indocalamus keeps a low profile but adds an elegant accent. (Photo by Fred Hornaday)

Genus Phyllostachys

Probably the most widespread genus of bamboo, definitely in cooler climates, Phyllostachys includes an enormous variety of incredibly resilient bamboo species. From the giant Moso of China, used for all manner of commercial products like clothing and flooring, to the ordinary golden bamboo (P. aurea) that can be found in pots and front yards around the world. The smallest Phyllostachys are suitable for bonsai, while varieties like Henon are cultivated across the American south for poles and building material.

Genus Pleioblastus

A large genus of small bamboo, these dwarf varieties make great accents and groundcovers. But don’t let the low height and delicate culms fool you, they have some very vigorous roots that love to stretch across the garden and get into places they don’t belong.

Genus Pleioblastus species feature
They’re mostly dwarves, but some species of Pleioblustus can fill out very generously. (Photo by Fred Hornaday)

Genus Pseudosasa

This genus of medium-sized running bamboo is attractive and relatively easy to contain. Arrow Bamboo (P. japonica) is especially popular is grows quite well in a pot. Tonkin Bamboo is another revered species, prized for its excellent culms, used widely for fishing poles and ski poles.

Genus Sasa

Indigenous to Japan, these dwarf bamboo specimens are recognizable for their low height and their wide leaves. They are ideal as hedges and groundcovers, providing an excellent compliment to decorative trees like Japanese Maple and short-needle pines. And Sasa bamboo will not be discouraged by cold weather.

Bamboo Genus Sasa palmata
Sasa palmata is a medium-sized bamboo that does well in cool, shady places. (Photo by Fred Hornaday)

Genus Semiarundinaria

Another interesting genus of temperate bamboo is Semiarundinaria, which includes at least two species of popular ornamentals. S. fastuosa, or Temple Bamboo, has an especially regal appearance, tall, upright and colorful. S. densiflora is also a popular bamboo with an unusual leaf arrangement.

Bambusa multiplex Hornaday Alphons Karr
Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphons Karr’ is an attractive, ornamental clumper. (Photo by Fred Hornaday)

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

Genus Bambusa

More subtropical than truly tropical, this is one of the most widespread genera of bamboo, including more than 100 species of all different shapes, sizes and colors. Most tropical clumpers need a very warm climate where freezing is rare or unheard of. But many varieties of Bambusa can tolerate temperatures into the low 20s or even the teens (Fahrenheit). The more tropical species are popular for commercial cultivation, like B. balcooa and B . blumeana. More adaptable species like B. textilis and B. oldhamii are extremely popular as ornamentals.

Bambusa chungii blue bamboo
Bambusa chungii, or Blue Bamboo, has a most distinguished appearance.

Genus Chusquea

Not the most famous genus among bamboo newbies, this neotropical category, native to Central and South America, actually has well over 100 species. Many are excellent choices as ornamentals, tolerating freezing temparates as well as extreme heat. Most interestingly, the bamboos have solid culms instead of hollow, making them very useful for crafts and furniture making.

Chusquea culeou solid bamboo
Chusquea culeou with distinctively solid poles.

Genus Dendrocalamus

A truly tropical group of bamboos, these are some of the largest and most gigantic in the whole family of grasses, even more impressive than the genus Gigantochloa. Many species can exceed 100 feet in height and some (D. sinicus) will approach 150 feet. D. asper is quickly becoming the most widely cultivated bamboo for commercial use, with its incredibly strong and straight poles. But if there’s any chance of frost, these Southeast Asian giants won’t be happy.

Dendrocalamus asper giant leaves
D. asper stretches high into the tropical canopy. (Photo by Fred Hornaday)

Genus Guadua

In South America, they consider Guadua angustifolia to be the greatest and most important bamboo species in the world. It’s certainly among the top five, if you ask me. In Colombia and Ecuador, they can build anything with this tropical timber grass. But efforts to grow the species elsewhere have not been so successful. It really prefers the high altitudes and the equatorial orientation.

Thyrsostachys siamensis Thai bamboo
Thyrsostachys siamensis is also called Thai Bamboo or Monastery Bamboo. (Photo by Fred Hornaday)

Genus Thyrsostachys

A rather exotic genus, with only two recognized species, these tropical delights thrive in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Monastery Bamboo is a wonderful ornamental, where the climate is warm enough, but in its native habitat it is valued both for its edible shoots and its construction-quality poles.

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.