The nandina shrub, a colorful evergreen, has gone from being a popular ornamental bush to an invasive threat to wild landscapes and native species. Learn why nandina should be planted only with caution, if at all, in the United States, and what you should do if you find yourself with a legacy planting of nandina shrub to manage.
Nandina (Nandina domestica) is also commonly known as sacred bamboo, or heavenly bamboo, owing to the sectionally sheathed appearance of its woody main stalks. It is, however, a member of the family Berberidaceae (barberry), not the family Poaceae (grass) where bamboo is classified. The nandina can grow as tall as 8 to 10 feet, multistemmed and erect, producing bushy growths of compound leaves made up of small to medium leaflets. The leaflets may vary in appearance from ovate to arrowhead- or diamond-shaped, in a glossy green that is often tinged with burgundy red. Clusters of small, fragrant white flowers emerge in late spring and early summer, giving way to the nandina's characteristic berries, firm and bright red, that appear in early autumn and usually persist throughout the winter and into spring.
Introduced to the United States from its native Asia in the 19th century, nandina was for generations widely used as a decorative shrub for residential landscaping. Consequently, you will find it well established on the grounds of older homes, especially in the Southeast and as far west as Texas. Nandina's colonizing growth habit by means of underground root spreaders has led to a widespread problem: the exotic shrub is escaping its residential boundaries and choking out native species in the wild, therefore nandina is now widely classified as an invasive species.
The spreading root system makes nandina almost impossible to remove manually, so you may need to resort to herbicides, which should be applied with extreme caution and only under the advisement of your local agricultural extension office.