Masquerading or misidentified as bamboos are many imposters with narrow leaves or strongly segmented stems that are certainly not in the tribes of woody bamboos, and often not even grasses at all. These may be fine plants in their own right, but many people have been disappointed to find that they do not really have a proper bamboo. Such confusion often arises from use of local or trade names without a full scientific name. There is also a wish to sell plants with the attractive characteristics of bamboos for use as houseplants. Proper bamboos are generally more of a challenge to grow successfully indoors than most houseplants, and they are also much harder to propagate in large quantities, and so more expensive to produce.
Further information on the most common imposters can be found through the links below. Note that Dracaena sanderiana (Lucky Bamboo) may cause an allergic skin reaction, while Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo) contains cyanogenic glycosides and is toxic to animals and birds. Arundo donax, while being a good biomass-producer, is an invasive weed. It can choke waterways, eliminate natural vegetation and wildlife, consume huge quantities of water, create a fire hazard, and cause floods.
Pogonatherum paniceum, being a grass, looks more like a bamboo, although the random orientation of the leaves, which like those of most grasses clasp the shoots at their bases without a pseudopetiole, gives away its non-bambusoid identity and makes it look rather scruffy. There are now variegated cultivars of this species, looking very much like Pleioblastus bamboos, but they are not frost hardy and
need constant moisture, while under low light levels indoors they lose the compact dome-like shape to become lanky. New imposters appear from time to time. Other grasses are hardest to distinguish from small bamboos. Lophatherum gracile, grown as a herbal remedy, has broad leaf blades joined to their sheaths by narrow pseudopetioles like bamboos, but the pseudopetioles are longer and do not articulate properly through swelling of strong basal pulvini like those of a woody bamboo. L. gracile looks very similar indeed to many of the herbaceous bamboos, tribe Olyreae, which are more closely related to the woody bamboos, tribes Arundinarieae and Bambuseae. Herbaceous bamboos are technically bamboos, although their culms are not properly woody, thus excluding them from the popular rather than taxonomic concept of what a bamboo is. They also lack substantial branching, an outer ligule on the leaf sheaths, or culm sheaths that are well differentiated from the leaf sheaths. In the woody bamboos the culm sheaths have greatly reduced, toughened blades, and the leaf sheaths have a thin erect apical rim, the external ligule. Herbaceous bamboos and other non-bamboo grasses also flower frequently, sometimes annually, usually without dying afterwards, while the woody bamboos flower very infrequently and usually die afterwards.