Fine Art

Nandina domestica

Nandina domestica, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Classification System: APG IV

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiosperms
Cladus: Eudicots
Ordo: Ranunculales

Familia: Berberidaceae
Subfamilia: Nandinoideae
Genus: Nandina
Species: Nandina domestica

Nandina domestica Thunb.

Nov. Gen. Pl. 1:14. 1781 (Fl. Jap. 147. 1784)
Govaerts, R. et al. 2021. Nandina domestica in Kew Science Plants of the World online. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2021 April 23. Reference page.
International Plant Names Index. 2021. Nandina domestica. Published online. Accessed: 23 April 2021. 2021. Nandina domestica. Missouri Botanical Garden. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2021 April 23.
USDA, ARS, Germplasm Resources Information Network. Nandina domestica in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Accessed: 08-Apr-12.

Vernacular names
English: Heavenly Bamboo
français: Bambou sacré
magyar: Japánszentfa
日本語: ナンテン
中文: 南天竹
Nandina domestica (/nænˈdiːnə/ nan-DEE-nə)[a][b][c] 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. Although a popular ornamental shrub, the berries are toxic to birds,[2] especially towards the end of the winter when other food sources become scarce.[3]

Nandina is derived from the Japanese name, nanten.[4] Domestica means 'domesticated', or 'of the household'.[4]

Berries of the sacred bamboo

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
Leaves changing colour with season
Dwarf cultivar

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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5]

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.

Nandina is extremely toxic to birds[6] and animals.[3] 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.[7]
Fire Power – Height of 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall, is so-named for its impressive red fall and winter foliage.[8]
Gulfstream – Reaching 3 feet wide and 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall, it features narrow, diamond-shaped leaves which are orange-tinted and coppery when young that develop to turquoise in summer, then turn orange-red in fall.[8]
Lemon Lime – Yellowish green spring foliage that transforms to chartreuse in summer.[8]
Moon Bay – Dense and upright reaching 1m, its diamond-shaped leaves (which are similar to Gulfstream) change seasonally from lime green, red, apricot and burgundy.[d]
Moyer's Red – A semi dwarf type that grows 4 to 6 feet tall that features light-pink flowers.[e]
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.[f]
Obsession – Related to the above, it grows 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall and wide and features scarlet spring and fall foliage.[8]
Royal Princess – Reaching up to 8 feet tall, this displays blush-coloured blooms.[8]
Sienna Sunrise – Growing 3–4 feet tall, it features glaring red foliage with red highlights in fall.[8]


All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing compounds that decompose[9][10] 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.[11] Excessive consumption of the berries will kill birds such as cedar waxwings,[12] because they are subject to cyanide toxicosis, resulting in death to multiple individuals at one time.[13]

The berries also contain alkaloids such as nantenine, which is used in scientific research as an antidote to MDMA (ecstasy).[14][15]
Status as an invasive species

Nandina is considered invasive in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

Although grown extensively in Texas because of its tolerance for dry conditions, fruiting varieties of Nandina are considered invasive there.[19][20] 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.

Flowers of Nandina domestica



Fruiting shrub

Natural environment

'Fire power' cultivar in a hedge setting

A cultivar in South Korea

'Gulf Stream' cultivar with diamond-shaped leaves

Nandina domestica seedling, with two green cotyledons, and a first red-green leaf

Flowers and fruit


(or nan-DEE-nuh) Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
Oxford English Dictionary.[1]
The unexpected pronunciation /iː/ approximates the Japanese nanten.
Nandina Moon Bay 14cm
Nandina domestica 'Moyer's Red'

Nandina Nana


"Nandina". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
Davis, Jerry W. (28 January 2016). "Nandina Berries Kill Birds". Audubon Arkansas. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
"Nandina Berries Kill Birds Popular garden shrub berries are toxic to birds and other animals", by Jerry W. Davis, Audubon Arkansas, 28 January 2016.
Gledhill, David (2008). "The Names of Plants". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521866453 (hardback), ISBN 9780521685535 (paperback). pp 145, 268
Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Nandina".
"Why birds don't eat nandina berries" by Rett Davis, The Times News, 28 November 2014.
Blush™ Nandina domestica
What Are the Different Types of Nandina Shrubs?
Abrol, Y. P.; Conn, E. E.; Stoker, J. R. (1966) “Studies on the identification, biosynthesis and metabolism of a cyanogenic glucoside in Nandina domestica Thunb.”. Phytochemistry 5(5):1021–1027 doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(00)82800-9
Olechno, J. D.; Poulton, J. E.; Conn, E. E. “Nandinin: An acylated free cyanohydrin from Nandina domestica”. (1984) Phytochemistry 23(8):1784–1785 doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(00)83491-3
"North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service Poisonous Plants of North Carolina". Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
Woldemeskel, Moges; Styer, Eloise L. (2010). "Feeding Behavior-Related Toxicity due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum)". Veterinary Medicine International. 2010: 818159. doi:10.4061/2010/818159. PMC 3005831. PMID 21197466.
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" (PDF). Psychopharmacology. 173 (3–4): 270–7. doi:10.1007/s00213-003-1741-2. hdl:2027.42/46360. PMID 14740148. S2CID 8425621.
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.
"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 December 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
"Nandina". Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida. Retrieved 24 December 2010.
"Maryland Invasive Plants Prevention and Control". Maryland Department of Agriculture, Maryland Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
"Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - the University of Texas at Austin".

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