It's not Bamboo
Common Name: heavenly bamboo
Botanical Name: Nandina domestica
Form: upright oval, fine textured
Plant Type: shrub
Mature Size: 3 to 8 feet x 2 to 4 feet
Origin: India, Japan, China
Hardiness Zone: 6 to 9
Foliage: green, tri or bipinnate compound with linear leaflets, bamboo-like, pointed tips with a wide base, red in spring, bluish-green in summer, purplish-red in autumn
Flowers: showy, pink buds mature to white with yellow anthers, held in long clusters (panicles), slightly fragrant, Aug, Sept.
Fruit: showy, bright red berries in autumn that linger throughout winter
Stems: stiff, vertical, green, red, brown, with alternately arranged leaves
Exposure: full sun to part shade, afternoon shade is recommrnded
Soil: tolerant of most, but prefers moist humus-rich
Uses: specimen, accent, cut flowers & foliage, screens, groups, shrub borders, woodland, foundation plantings, containers
Attracts: berries attract birds, toxic to cedar waxwings, flowers attract bees and other pollinators
Invasive Tendencies: yes, in Southeast US
Resistant: drought tolerant once established, rabbits
Propagation: seed, layering, semi-hardwood cuttings
Pruning: thin out old stems mid to late winter
Problems: root rot, fungal leaf spot
Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, is a broadleaf evergreen shrub. Their stems and foliage resemble bamboo, but they are not even related. They are not from heaven either, but from Asia, but they have so many attributes that may explain why they are so named.
Nandinas are an attractive shrub with stiffly upright cane-like stems and colourful evergreen foliage. Its lacey, finely cut leaves change colour from green to red and purple in the autumn.
Combined with their stunning berries, they are an essential plant to add interest and colour - no matter what the season.
Heavenly bamboo’s slightly fragrant flowers appear are a welcome sight in fall as other plants decline. Their pink buds mature into white blossoms with bright yellow stamens. They are borne in clusters at the end of graceful arching stems followed by hanging grape-like clusters of brilliant shiny red berries. They persist well into the winter and provide food for hungry birds. For best fruiting plant several plants together in a cluster.
Heavenly bamboo is not always evergreen. Where and when winters are harsh, they drop their leaves. Stems may even die back, however new ones will emerge from the rhizomes in spring. To increase their hardiness, plant them in sheltered locations away from strong winds and provide a winter mulch. Cover their base with 3 inches of soil, straw or fall leaves.
Nandinas prefer a rich, moist soil, especially when young. As they age, they become more tolerant of dry soils. They benefit greatly from 3 inches of an organic mulch. Spread it on top of the soil to help retain moisture and to add nutrition.
The Trouble with Heavenly Bamboo
Be aware that their berries are toxic to wildlife, livestock and domestic pets especially when eaten in large amounts. They contain cyanogenic glycosides, that convert to hydrogen cyanide when ingested. Cedar waxwings love the berries so much so that they become intoxicated and die. It’s advisable to avoid planting nandinas where there are cedar waxwings, on farms, near horses and in gardens were children, cats and dogs like to graze on plants. As an alternative, plant cultivars that do not produce berries: Nandina ‘Nana', ‘Gulf Stream’,’ Firepower’ and ‘Blush Pink’.
Another issue with heavenly bamboo is that they are invasive in eastern US, especially in the southern states. For more information on where nandinas have run amok click here.