River managers involved in riverbank protection need plant‐selection guidelines based on the biogeographical and ecological requirements of a wide variety of plant species. In this study, we propose a double typology of the woody plant species used in riverbank protection bioengineering in Europe based on ecological and biogeographical features. The statistical analyses of existing data highlight the important role played by waterlogging tolerance, soil moisture, soil productivity and light exposure in species classification, whereas acidity was less selective. Ninety‐five species were classified in 11 ecological groups according to the six ecological variables. Based on three biogeographical variables (altitude, continentality and geographic distribution), a second classification gave five biogeographical groups clustering species according to their geographic preferences. Independent biogeographical and ecological typologies allow river managers to be consistent with the regional altitudinal and climatic environment and to select species adapted to the local environmental conditions of the riverbank considered. This study is of particular interest because its methodology and results are applicable to slope protection in general as well as to potential changes resulting from climate change.