NANDINA:
THE DARK SIDE

I’ll admit, there was a time when I jumped at the chance to transplant some nandina (Nandina domestica), also known as heavenly bamboo, from my neighbor’s yard to mine.  I pictured a perfect look for the holidays with bright red berries atop dark green foliage.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned this import from Asia has its dark side.The seeds in those red berries contain highly toxic hydrogen cyanide which can be fatal for those voracious foragers, cedar waxwings.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, most birds who eat nandina berries regurgitate the seeds, while cedar waxwings try to digest them.  They can die within an hour of consuming the berries.

A study on the cause of death of a flock of cedar waxwings published in Veterinary Medicine International can be viewed here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005831/ .

To compound the problem, nandina (Nandina domestica) has now been found to be an invasive by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.

There are cultivars which don’t produce berries and have not been listed as invasive.

Thanks to birds regurgitating seeds, I’ve recently discovered Nandina domestica growing in the shady, moist edges of swampy areas and along dry roadsides. Nandina does well in a variety of environments and once established, is difficult to remove.

What can you do to help?

  • If you’re unable to remove Nandina domestica or just can’t give it up, remove the flowers or berries so they aren’t consumed.
  • Pass the word to your friends, organizations, and businesses using Nandina domestica in their landscape.
  • Plant native, berry producing plants for our winter residents and visitors. A bonus is that native plants support the native insects needed by insect eating birds.  Here are a few suggestions:

beautyberry (Callicasrpa americana);

wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera);

red mulberry (Morus rubra);

red cedar (Juniperus virginiana);

sugarberry (Celtis laevigata);

American holly (Ilex opaca);

dahoon holly (Ilex cassine);

yaupon (Ilex vomitoria);

East Palatka holly (Ilex x allenuata ‘East    Palatka’)

By Carole Tebay

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