Nandina

Nandina domestica

Commonly known as Nandina, Heavenly Bamboo or Sacred Bamboo, this plant is anything but heavenly. The berries are toxic and it is a category 2 invasive in Georgia. [3]  If you have it in your yard, please replace it with another shrub.

Nandina shrubs in a landscape setting

It’s sold as a small evergreen shrub. 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 in diameter, ripening in late autumn and often persisting through the winter. [1]

Toxic to Birds, Children and Small Animals

One of a flock of dead Cedar Waxwings found in front of Decatur High School in 2016. Nandina poisoning was the cause. (photo courtesy of Charles Reid)

All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing compounds that decompose.  to produce hydrogen cyanide, and could potentially 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. [1]

Excessive consumption of the berries will kill birds such as Cedar Waxwings (see our post from April, 2016 – Nandina Warning). [1] [4]   The Waxwings come are migratory and come through in flocks in late Winter and early spring.  They are looking for fruit at a time when fruit may be scarce.  Gorging on nandina berries may prove fatal to the birds.

If you have the plant, at least remove the berries which will prevent harm and stop its spread.

An Invasive in Georgia

Nandina Berries in March

Nandina is considered invasive in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida [1],  and the Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council lists it as a category 2 invasive. [2]

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 underground stems. [1] In other words, it also spreads like bamboo. In general, the purchase or continued cultivation of non-sterile varieties in the southeastern United States is discouraged. [1]

References and Additional Information

[1]  Wikipedia: Nandina
[2]  Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council – List of Non-native Invasive Plants in Georgia
[3] Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council – Suggested Alternatives to Non-native Invasive Plants
[4]  Intown Hawk: Blog Post 4/12/2016 – Nandina Warning
[5]  Intown Hawk: Plant Terminology
[6]  UGA, College of Veterinary Medicine: Toxicity Due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings
[7]  Audubon Arkansas: Nandina berries are toxic to birds and other animals