You may have noticed one species starting to take center stage in the landscape as autumn slips into winter. Its berries resemble that of a native holly, but its foliage is distinct: fading from a pale green to a fiery red, it provides winter interest in gardens that might otherwise be devoid of color at this time of year. It is no wonder that this species was introduced from East Asia to the US as an ornamental in 1804. Although neither a true bamboo nor as pure as the common misnomer implies, Nandina domestica goes by the common names of nandina, heavenly bamboo, and sacred bamboo.
Despite its beauty in a dull winter landscape, nandina is invasive in the Southeast. Its ability to survive a wide range of light and soil conditions has allowed the species to thrive in forest edges and home landscapes alike. Nandina domestica easily outcompetes native species by spreading quickly with its thick and expansive rhizomes.
One may assume that nandina’s vermillion berries would be a good food source for birds, but they are toxic to all animals. The berries contain cyanide and other harmful alkaloids which can lead to sudden death if eaten in excess. In Georgia, the berries have been reported to be the cause of a mass death of cedar waxwings, a species that relies heavily on fruit for food.
Nandina has been spotted at TLC’s Brumley and Irvin Nature Preserves as well as many of our conservation easements. It is also commonly found on residential properties either because it has been intentionally planted or migrated from a neighboring yard. Nandina likes disturbed areas and is extremely tolerant of drought, shade, salt, and deer. It is difficult to remove due to its hearty root system and simply cutting the plant without applying a concentrated herbicide to the stem will encourage new growth from the stump.
You can diminish nandina’s harmful effect on native species in a variety of ways. Instead of planting this beautiful but dangerous invasive as part of your home landscaping, you can plant native species with colorful berries also beloved by birds such as winterberry (Ilex verticillata), coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), and beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).
A creative way to stop the spread of nandina and maybe even save a life is to collect the berries and foliage to use in festive holiday bouquets and wreaths. Just be sure to throw the berries in the garbage instead of your compost to prevent seed spread. You can also cut nandina’s white flowers in late spring to prevent fruiting to use in bouquets as well. Nandina may be an aggressive invasive, but we can still appreciate its beauty while curbing its spread.
This blog post was written by Madeline Joslin, member of Resilience Corps NC, an AmeriCorps program run by Conservation Trust for North Carolina and funded through a federal grant awarded by NC’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service.