Nandina domestica (pron.: / / nan-DEE-nuh) commonly known as nandina, heavenly bamboo or sacred bamboo, is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to eastern Asia from the Himalayas to Japan. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Nandina.
Despite the common name, it is not a bamboo but an erect evergreen shrub up to 2 m (7 ft) tall by 1.5 m (5 ft) wide, with numerous, usually unbranched stems growing from ground level. The glossy leaves are sometimes deciduous in colder areas, 50–100 cm (20–39 in) long, bi- to tri-pinnately compound, with the individual leaflets 4–11 cm (2–4 in) 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 has 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.
Although grown extensively in Texas because they are well-adapted to dry conditions, fruiting varieties of nandina (especially nandina domestica) are considered invasive in Texas as well. This is primarily due to birds spreading seeds into natural areas where nandinas proliferate and crowd out native species.
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 to 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 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 10–110 °F (-12–43 °C). A true low-care plant, it 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. September 2005.
- The unexpected pronunciation /iː/ approximates the Japanese nanten.
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- Moges Woldemeskel and Eloise L. Styer. "Feeding Behavior-Related Toxicity due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum)". Retrieved 2012-09-26.
- "Nandina". Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida. Retrieved 24 December 2010.
- Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Nandina".
- Coats (1964) 1992.