Nandina domestica / Heavenly bamboo

Nandina domestica, bottlebrush buckeyeWhere it isn’t an invasive pest, Nandina is valued for its extreme tolerance of drought, its tolerance for sun or deep shade, its evergreen foliage, and the red berries that, when eaten by birds, are causing problems in the Southeast. (Photographed here with Aesculus parviflora or bottlebrush buckeye.)

Invasive? In some locations, yes.

Nandina domestica is on the invasive plant lists for Texas and the Southeast, as far north as Virginia, where it spreads by bird-carried seeds. Yet I’ve read warnings from naturalists that nandinas aren’t, in fact, food for birds (so shouldn’t be counted as wildlife-friendly). So the unsolved mystery is: Are there noninvasive varieties of nandina whose berries the birds won’t eat? They also spread very occasionally by stolens in a clumping manner, but that’s not been pinpointed as the problem — only the dropping of seeds by birds.

Nandina domestic, amsoniaAnd just to complicate the issue even further, the former president of the Florida Native Plant Society has written publicly that Nandina was designated as invasive in Florida by the very groups who benefited from doing so (by receiving more funds for its removal). He disagreed with that designation and quit the Society in protest. Yikes.

In any event, some gardeners who grow Nandina prevent the production of berries and the possibility of spreading by removing its flowers.

But to answer the question of why it’s clearly invasive in some locations and not in others, I’ve asked a noted expert on invasive plants (John Peter Thompson) to help, and he’s promised to get to get to the bottom of the dilemma. So, more will be revealed — soon.

It’s indigenous to China and Japan.


  • Lacy white panicle-shaped flowers in the spring; bright orange berries emerge and last for months.
  • Fine in full sun or deep shade.
  • The species grows to 8 x 4-6 feet’, and dwarf varieties are available that are full grown at 3 or 4 feet, even just 2.
  • Hardy to Zone 6.
  • Deer-resistant.