Bamboo (Sasa palmata) Identification

Bamboo / Spring / Edible

bamboo in High Contrast, CC BY 3.0 DE

Surprisingly bamboo can be found naturalised in the UK, it won’t grow as large as other bamboos due to our climate but can still be used.

Common Name

Broad-leaved  or Arrow  are the two most frequently found naturalized in the UK.

Broad-leaved Bamboo

NasserHalaweh, CC BY-SA 4.0

Arrow Bamboo


Botanical Name

Sasa palmata  and Pseudosasa japonica

Meaning of Botanical Name

The etymological root of the binomial name Sasa is from the Japanese name for certain dwarf bamboos.  Palmata is derived from the Latin palmatum meaning ‘palm like’, in reference to the leaves.

Pseudo means fake or impersonater.  So Pseudosasa refers to the similarity between Broad-leaved and Arrow Bamboo, but they are not the same plant and japonica is where the plant originated.

Scientific Classification 

Kingdom; plantae

Phylum; Trachiophyta

Class; Liliopsida

Order; Poales

Family; Poaceae (Gramineae)

Genus; Sasa/Pseudosasa

Species; palamata/japonica

Known Hazards 

Must be cooked or fermented prior to consumption.

Could be confused with:

Fairly distinctive.  There are no other grass species in the UK that look like this.  The young shoots of Japanese Knotweed could possibly be mistaken for Bamboo but as both are edible, there is no risk of poisoning, although there are considerations to be taken if harvesting Knotweed.

Food plant of; 

There is little benefit to wildlife in the UK from this species other slugs munching on the young shoots when they emerge in Spring.  In China, however, Bamboo is exclusively the diet of Giant Pandas. Gorillas, Elephants, Chimpanzees and Rats also eat Bamboo.

Chen Wu from Shanghai, China, CC BY 2.0

Range and Distribution

In the UK;

Broad-leaved Bamboo introduced native of Japan.  Widely cultivated and naturalized north England to central Scotland.

Arrow Bamboo is also an introduced species native of Japan and Korea.  Frequently naturalized in southern England and south west Wales.


Both species like damp woodland, stream and pond sides.

Physical Characteristics of Bamboo

Bamboo belongs to the grass family Poaceae.  The long straight stalks of this grass can reach up to 100 feet tall, depending on species.  The two species we are looking at here are fairly short in comparison to some of their relatives.  The stalks are jointed and hollow, often growing in thick stands.

PLBechly, CC BY-SA 4.0

The stalk of the Bamboo is called a culm, (Latin for stalk is culmus).  It consists of the main stem, leaves and inflorescence.  The sections of the main stalk are broken down into culms and interculms, commonly described as nodes and internodes.  Think of the nodes as your knuckles and the internodes as your finger between the knuckles.  The internodes are hollow and the nodes are solid.  The hollow sections of stalk, (the internodes), are usually airtight and have many uses.


Broad-leaved Bamboo; 12-30 x 3.5-9 cm with 5-13 veins on either side of the midrib.  The leaf sheaths are hairless, bright, shiny green with a yellow midrib. The petioles, (stalk that attaches the leaf to the plant), are greenish yellow.

Sten, CC BY-SA 3.0

Arrow Bamboo; longer, narrower leaves, 15-35 x 2-5 cm with 5-9 veins on either side of the midrib.  The sheaths are dense and roughly hairy.

Kurt Stüber [1], CC BY-SA 3.0


Mogens Engelund, CC BY-SA 3.0

Both species have inflorescences arranged in loose clusters, a little bit like Oats.  They produce flowers very infrequently.


Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US

Because Bamboo flowers very infrequently it rarely produce seeds.  When it does produce seeds, they look very similar to grass seeds.


Irvin calicut, CC BY-SA 3.0

The horizontal rhizomes have bumps called nodes and the sections of root between the nodes are called internodes.  The lengthy roots are the main way that it spreads because they do not produce flowers and seeds for many years at a time.

There are two types of root systems, running and clumping. Clumping Bamboo root systems clump together, making them easy to grow in pots.  Running Bamboo sends out long horizontal rhizomes with new shoots and new branching rhizomes that come off the nodes.

Both Broad-leaved and Arrow Bamboo have clump-forming root systems

Folklore, Tall Tales and Not so Folklore 

With its characteristically hollow stems, Bamboo represents enlightenment in Buddhism.  Once we have learned to embrace emptiness we become a vessel for the universal spirit.  Once free from worldly attachments, we begin to find relief from suffering and attain real wisdom, according to Buddhist beliefs.

Because Bamboo is very strong and fast-growing, it is associated with fertility, long life, and immortality across Asia and there are a great many myths and legends associated with Bamboo.

You can check some of them out here;

Edible Use

The very young leaf shoots are the edible part of the plant.  Remove the outer covering and the inner part can be enjoyed boiled or stir fried.  You can also ferment or pickle the shoots and because they are hollow, they can be stuffed with savoury things such as mushrooms and rice or spiced minced meat.

The seeds are also edible but it is very rare that you will find them in the wild.  If you do, they can be ground up and added to flour or for thickening sauces.


In traditional Chinese medicine, bamboo shoots are used to ease labour and the expulsion of the placenta by inducing uterine contractions.  A poultice of Bamboo shoots is often used for cleaning wounds and healing infections.  Bamboo shoot decoction, taken with honey, is used to treat respiratory disorders.

Tips and Observations

Harvest bamboo shoots by digging around them and cutting them off just above the rhizome.  Clean the shoots and peel the outer sheaths.  As you get closer to the soft edible core, as you remove the sheaths, you’ll notice the bottom of some of the sheaths will be white or a very light colour.  Don’t discard these.  They can be cut from the tough part of the outer sheath and made into Bamboo crisps.

Identification is key!

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