Plants Commonly Mistaken for Bamboo

Terra Viridis does not sell these plants.

Giant Reed

Arundo donax is called Giant Reed (or sometimes Spanish Cane) and is often confused with bamboo. It is in the Grass family (Gramineae or Poaceae), and therefore closely related, but it is not a bamboo. It has escaped cultivation and is easily spread by stem nodes and rhizome divisions but probably not by seed which is usually sterile. It tolerates a wide variety of conditions from dry to wet, from clay to sandy or gravelly soils, and even high salinity. Often found growing along waterways in California, it has been growing around the Mediterranean Sea for 5000 years, but may be native to Asia. It is used to make reeds for woodwind instruments and for Pan pipes. There is at least one cultivar with variegated leaves.

Lucky Bamboo

The plant with the common name "Lucky Bamboo" is botanically Dracaena sanderiana and is in the Agave (Agavaceae) family. It is called "Lucky Bamboo" because it superficially resembles bamboo and is thought by the Chinese to be lucky. It is grown in a vase of water with marbles or pebbles at the bottom, or just glued into a container and surrounded by rocks or moss. It is sold in some Asian markets and by some florists. It is often trained into curly, spiraled, or braided forms. The classic Lucky Bamboo has solid, light green foliage. Various cultivars can be found with variegated foliage, with golden foliage, or even striped stems.

Heavenly Bamboo

Nandina domestica is the plant commonly called "Heavenly Bamboo." It has less of a resemblance to bamboo than does Lucky Bamboo or the Giant Reed as the compound leaves do not look like bamboo leaves and are copper to purplish-red in color when new. And when it flowers it resembles bamboo even less as the white flowers form green berries which eventually become red. It is in the Barberry (Berberidaceae) family.


Equisetum hyemale, known as the Scouring Rush or Common Horsetail is sometimes mistaken for bamboo because the stems have black bands that resemble bamboo nodes. Unlike bamboo, it normally grows in wet conditions and has very inconsequential leaves. It is in the Horsetail (Equisetaceae) family. Because of its high silica content it has been used to polish metals and by cabinetmakers as sandpaper. Rarely, other Equisetum species might also be mistaken for bamboo.

Bamboo Palm

The Bamboo Palm (or Reed Palm), botanically Chamaedorea seifritzii (sometimes C. erumpens) is sometimes mistaken for bamboo because the stems have white stripes that remind one of bamboo's nodes. Occasionally other similar Chamaedorea species are also mistaken for bamboo.

Terra Viridis Nursery
Carol Morse and Bob Johannessen
El Sobrante, CA
(510) 222-9438


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