Bamboos belong to the family of grasses, Gramineae or Poaceae. They can be characterized as having woody, usually hollow culms, complex rhizome and branch systems, petiolate leaf blades and prominent sheathing organs. Moreover, all the members possess similar anatomical features in the leaf blades (i.e., fusoid cells and arm cells) which set the bamboos apart from grasses.
There are an estimated 1000 species of bamboo belonging to about 80 genera in the world. Of these, about 200 species are found in Southeast Asia and belong to approximately 20 genera. Bamboo classification is far from complete and most genera are not well understood (PROSEA 1995).
Knowing the correct identity of a plant is basic to the understanding of the plant’s characteristics and uses. In forestry, identification is of fundamental importance in vegetation analysis, inventory of existing stands of trees and other plants, management of protected areas, biodiversity assessment, pest and disease management, food chain studies and many more. This is the reason why a course in dendrology or plant taxonomy is always included in the baccalaureate curricular programs of forestry colleges throughout the world.
For ages, bamboos have been used for a lot of purposes. In the Philippines, they are used for construction, furniture and handicraft manufacture, food, musical instruments, farm and fishing implements, pulp and paper, fuel for cooking and heating, etc. In May 2010, Executive Order 879 was issued by the Office of the President of the Republic creating the Philippine Bamboo Industry Development Council (PBIDC) which mandates the use of 20% of bamboo for reforestation, 25% for the desk requirements of all public elementary and high schools in the country, strengthening of the bamboo industry and intensification of research on bamboo production and utilization. The issuance of this EO, demonstrates how much importance the government places on bamboo for socio-economic development, environmental enhancement and power generation.
The development of a vegetative key for the identification of bamboos found in the Philippines would be of great help to the following: 1) bamboo scientists who conduct studies on the propagation, ecological and physiological requirements, culture, properties and utilization of different species of bamboo; 2) instructors of botany subjects; 3) private individuals engaged in the production of planting stocks of different species whether for plantation development or for landscaping purposes; and 4) foresters engaged in the development and management of bambuseta, botanical gardens, theme parks and plantations.
The key for identification is based entirely on vegetative characters for one important reason – most species of bamboo do not produce flowers annually. In fact, flowering occurs at irregular intervals and for some, the interval may be as long as 25 to more than a hundred years. On the other hand, vegetative characters can be determined almost throughout the year.


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