Nandina domestica ( / / nan-DEE-nuh) commonly known as nandina, heavenly bamboo or sacred bamboo, is a suckering shrub in the Barberry family, Berberidaceae. It is a monotypic genus, with this species as its only member. It is native to eastern Asia from the Himalaya east to Japan.
Despite the common name, it is not a bamboo at all. It is an erect shrub growing to 2 m tall (7'-8' in the Pacific Northwest), with numerous, usually unbranched stems growing from the roots. The glossy leaves are evergreen (sometimes deciduous in colder areas), 50–100 cm long, bi- to tri-pinnately compound, with the individual leaflets 4–11 cm long and 1.5–3 cm broad. The young leaves in spring are brightly coloured pink to red before turning green; old leaves turn red or purple again before falling. The flowers are white, borne in early summer in conical clusters held well above the foliage. The fruit is a bright red berry 5–10 mm diameter, ripening in late autumn and often persisting through the winter.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing hydrocyanic acid, and could potentially be fatal if ingested. The plant is placed in Toxicity Category 4, the category "generally considered non-toxic to humans," however, the berries are considered toxic to cats and grazing animals. The berries also contain alkaloids such as nantenine, which is used in scientific research as an antidote to MDMA. Birds are generally not affected by these toxins and will disperse the seeds through their droppings. However, excessive consumption of the berries will kill birds such as Cedar Waxwings. 
Status as an invasive species
Nandina is considered invasive in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. It has been placed on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s invasive list as a Category I species, the highest listing. It's been observed in the wild throughout Florida in Gadsden, Leon, Jackson, Alachua, and Citrus counties, in conservation areas, woodlands, and floodplains. In general, the purchase or continued cultivation of these plants in locations with similar climates to the Southeastern US is highly discouraged, unless they are a legally established non-fertile variety.
However, it is highly regarded (and encouraged) in Texas as a native-adapted plant that does not require a lot of water.
Garden history and cultivation
N. domestica, grown in Chinese and Japanese gardens for centuries, was brought to Western gardens by William Kerr, who sent it to London in his first consignment from Canton, in 1804. The English, unsure of its hardiness, kept it in greenhouses at first. The scientific name given it by Carl Peter Thunberg is a Latinized version of a Japanese name for the plant, nan-ten. Nandina is widely grown in gardens as an ornamental plant; over 65 cultivars have been named in Japan, where the species is particularly popular and a national Nandina society exists. In Shanghai berried sprays of Nandina are sold in the streets at the New Year, for the decoration of house altars and temples.
Nandina does not berry profusely in Great Britain, but it can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4–10. Nandina can take heat and cold, from 110 °F/43 °C to 10 °F/-12 °C. A true low-care plant, nandina needs no pruning, unless it is to harvest some leaves for use in a flower arrangement or berries for a holiday centerpiece, or occasionally to remove an old cane. The berries can also be left on the plants for birds to harvest in late winter. Spent berry stalks can easily be snapped off by hand in spring. Due to the naturally occurring phytochemicals (see above) this plant is commonly used in rabbit, deer, and javelina resistant landscape plantings.
Flowers of Nandina domestica
- (or nan-DEE-nuh) Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
- "nandina". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 2001. http://oed.com/search?searchType=dictionary&q=nandina.
- The unexpected pronunciation /iː/ approximates the Japanese nanten.
- "University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service Toxic Plants". http://www.aragriculture.org/horticulture/ornamentals/toxic_plants.htm. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
- "North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service Poisonous Plants of North Carolina". http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Nandido.htm. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
- Fantegrossi WE, Kiessel CL, Leach PT, Van Martin C, Karabenick RL, Chen X, Ohizumi Y, Ullrich T, Rice KC, Woods JH (May 2004). "Nantenine: an antagonist of the behavioral and physiological effects of MDMA in mice". Psychopharmacology 173 (3-4): 270–7. doi:10.1007/s00213-003-1741-2. PMID 14740148.
- Chaudhary S, Pecic S, Legendre O, Navarro HA, Harding WW (May 2009). "(+/-)-Nantenine analogs as antagonists at human 5-HT(2A) receptors: C1 and flexible congeners". Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters 19 (9): 2530–2. doi:10.1016/j.bmcl.2009.03.048. PMC 2677726. PMID 19328689. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2677726/.
- Moges Woldemeskel and Eloise L. Styer. "Feeding Behavior-Related Toxicity due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum)". http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005831/. Retrieved 9/26/2012.
- "Nandina". Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida. http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/281. Retrieved 24 December 2010.
- Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Nandina".
- Coats (1964) 1992.