Photographs and drawings
Pictures such as drawings, paintings and photographs were once restricted to books, but the internet now makes it possible to retrieve and post large numbers of bamboo illustrations. Photos are proliferating steadily online and the reliance on books and botanical drawings is fading fast. Go to pictures of commonly cultivated genera to start the hunt in the right direction. Then follow the Google search link for that genus. Then check out photos for a particular bamboo on Bambooweb or other databases and personal galleries. Submit your own photos to Bambooweb to improve the collection.
Photos of bamboos can look very similar, and it is important to look for particular morphological characters in the photos for identification. Close-up pictures of culm nodes, culm sheaths and leaf sheaths are of the greatest value. Photos are very useful for discriminating between those plants often incorrectly known as bamboos, although not really bamboos at all, and the real thing. Good photos can also be found on nursery websites. See simple descriptions for a selection of nurseries with good names and descriptions. More...
More... The easiest way to identify any plant is to find good pictures that clearly show the characters important for distinguishing them. But the photographer/artist, and also the identifier, need to know which particular parts of the plant are important, and these characters need to be presented clearly, often in close-up or magnified. The plants also have to be at the right stage of development, under similar growth conditions. A potted plant in the nursery looks very different to a mature grove.
Photographs can easily separate less closely related plants, which makes them excellent for distinguishing between real bamboos and the pretend bamboos, those that are commonly called bamboos, but are not really bamboos at all.
Photos are intrinsically most realistic, but a botanical drawing can conveniently combine several important characters from different parts of the plant. It can be concise, missing out irrelevant detail, and can be rather stylistic or creative, which may be helpful or occasionally misleading.
For real bamboos, especially when closely related species need to be separated, a combination of good photos and drawings would be ideal. Descriptions with annotated drawings and good photos will be the ultimate solution. There are suddenly large numbers of photographs available thanks to the internet, but the quality varies enormously. Bamboo plants photographed from a distance in poor lighting are often indistinguishable, and young plants can look very different to mature ones. Another pitfall is that many different species have similar-looking cultivars with apparently distinctive culm colouring or leaf blade variegation, and they can easily be confused. Botanical drawings are usually associated with scientific works in which names are carefully applied, so they are usually well identified, but unfortunately drawings tend to be copyright, while photos are often shared more freely. However, good news is that the illustrations for the bamboo account in the Flora of China, published as a separate book, are now being added to the online descriptions, under Related Objects, eg for Himalayacalamus collaris.
Thus there are many problems in recognition by picture alone, but nevertheless a good picture can still paint a thousand words. However good any kind of picture is, though, it can’t help with identification unless the picture has itself been properly identified, and the underlying taxonomy is sound...
A general image search for bamboo on Google currently brings up 1,340,000 images, which won’t help to identify a completely unknown bamboo. If the search has been narrowed down however, Google has burrowed into so many sites that it brings up a very good selection of images for well-known bamboos such as Semiarundinaria fastuosa for example. This can be a great way to verify the identification for the commoner cultivated bamboos of Europe & N America. These are listed by genus from most common down in a table of cultivated bamboos. A Google search from the top down on these names may reveal some likely candidates for unknown bamboos. Browsing through the websites of commercial bamboo nurseries sellers that any internet search will produce is a good way to start.
Also check out the dedicated ABS approved site for bamboo plant images at Bambooweb.
One way to use pictures is to take a photo yourself, post it on a website forum, and hope that someone will identify it for you. This just about works at the moment, but there may be limits to how much time bamboo enthusiasts are prepared spend identifying other people’s plants for them, and those who reply may not always agree with each other... The better the pictures, with close-ups of important characters, the better the identification.