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Bambusa species are characterized by a prominent rhizome system, woody, branching culms (stems), and leaf blades with petioles (McClure 1966). They grow 2–35 meters tall (Watson 1992) and are a clumping (pachymorph) type, in which rhizomes develop new culms close to the parent plants (rather than the running, or leptomorph, type characteristic of the species with serious invasive potential, in which rhizomes can grow 9–10 meters (30 feet) per year, sending up new culms along the full length; Waynesword 2011).
Many Bambusa species have been cultivated for so long that there are few, if any, populations known in the wild. These species are cultivated for a large range of uses (Flora of China 2011, Watson and Dallwitz 1992): for construction, scaffolding, and building materials (B. arundinacea, B. dissemulator, B. duriuscula, B. gibba, B. lapidea, B. malingensis, B. pervariabilis, B. rigida, B. sinospinosa, B. tuldoides, and B. vulgaris); split and woven into mats and other goods (B. albolineata, B. chungii, B. lenta, and B. textilis); for fishing rods, ski poles and furniture (B. pervariabilis), and for pulp and fiber for paper and rayon (B. guadua, among others). Several species are cultivated for their edible shoots (B. gibboides, B. variostriata). A number of species are famous for their use as ornamentals (B. multiplex, B. ventricosa, and B. vulgaris); some are used for hedges and property markings (B. flexuosa, B. gibba, B. sinospinosa). Various of the species are used for medicinal purposes, including as a febrifuge (to lower fever) and anti-emetic (to stop vomiting) and to treat kidney troubles and hematuria (ISSG 2011, Ngoc and Borton 2007).
Due to their fast growth and clonal habit, bamboo species may become weedy or invasive, although the pachymorph types do not generally spread as rapidly as the leptomorph types. Some Bambusa species, such as B. vulgaris, are classified as invasive in various Pacific islands (including in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Micronesia, the Philippines, and New Zealand), where they may colonize along streams and form dense monotypic stands despite their clumping habit (ISSG 2011, PIER 2011).