Nandina domestica (// nan-DEE-nə) 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. It is widely grown in gardens as an ornamental plant since it has a number of cultivars that display bright-red fall foliage in the cool months with attractive new foliage growth in spring.
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. Its petiolate leaves are 50–100 cm long, compound (two or three pinnacles) with leaflets, elliptical to ovate or lanceolate and of entire margins, 2–10 cm long by 0.5–2 cm wide, with petioles swollen at their bases.
The inflorescences are panicles axillary or terminal erect with numerous flowers hermaphrodite with numerous ovate-oblong sepals of pinkish white color and spirally imbricated and 6 oblong petals of 4 by 2.5 mm, white, patent at the beginning. 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.
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. 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 6–10 with some cultivars hardy into zone 5. Nandina can take heat and cold, from −10 to 110 °F (−23 to 43 °C). It generally needs no pruning, but can spread via underground runners and can be difficult to remove.
Despite Nandina toxicity, the berries can 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.
These are some of the popular cultivars of this plant:
- Blush – Slightly smaller than the above, it produces red new growth in spring and autumn, and in winter months it turns vivid red.
- Fire Power – Height of 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall, is so-named for its impressive red fall and winter foliage.
- Gulfstream – Reaching 3 feet wide and 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall, it displays orange-tinted, coppery young foliage that developed to turquoise in summer, then turns orange-red in fall.
- Lemon Lime – Yellowish green spring foliage that transforms to chartreuse in summer.
- Moon Bay – Dense and upright reaching 1m, its foliage change seasonally from lime green, red, apricot and burgundy.
- Moyer's Red – A semi dwarf type that grows 4 to 6 feet tall that features light-pink flowers.
- Nana – A dwarf variety suited for a low hedge, it features foliage that turns into lime green to crimson red and scarlet-bronze tones in the cooler months.
- Obsession – Related to the above, it grows 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall and wide and features scarlet spring and fall foliage.
- Royal Princess – Reaching up to 8 feet tall, this displays blush-coloured blooms.
- Sienna Sunrise – Growing 3–4 feet tall, it features glaring red foliage with red highlights in fall.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing compounds that decompose to produce hydrogen cyanide, and could be fatal if ingested. The plant is placed in Toxicity Category 4, the category "generally considered non-toxic to humans", but the berries are considered toxic to cats and grazing animals. Excessive consumption of the berries will kill birds such as cedar waxwings, because they are subject to cyanide toxicosis, resulting in death to multiple individuals at one time.
Status as an invasive species
Nandina is considered invasive in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. It was 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 in Florida in Gadsden, Leon, Jackson, Alachua and Citrus counties, in conservation areas, woodlands and floodplains. In general, the purchase or continued cultivation of non-sterile varieties in the southeastern United States is discouraged.
Nandina is also becoming invasive in wild areas farther north, and in May 2017 was added to the Maryland invasive plant list with a tier 2 status.
Although grown extensively in Texas because of its tolerance for dry conditions, fruiting varieties of Nandina are considered invasive there. This is primarily due to birds spreading seeds into natural areas where Nandina proliferates and crowds out native species, both through seeding and by the growth of rhizomatous underground stems.
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- Nandina domestica information
- Heavenly Bamboo information and resources
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