Sacred bamboo or Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to East Asia from the Himalayas to Japan. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Nandina.
Sacred bamboo is widely grown in gardens as an ornamental plant with several cultivars displaying bright red fall foliage in winter and attractive new foliage growth in spring.
Even though it has the common names “sacred bamboo” and “heavenly bamboo” this is not a real bamboo tree but a bush.
All parts of the Nandina domestica plant contain poison, a compound that breaks down to produce hydrogen cyanide and can be fatal if swallowed. This plant is generally considered non-toxic to humans, but its fruit is highly toxic to cats, goats, sheep, birds, and mammals.
Berries also contain alkaloids such as nantenine, which is used in scientific research as an antidote to MDMA (ecstasy).
More than 65 cultivars have been named in Japan, where the species is very popular and there is a national Nandina society.
Here are some popular cultivars of this plant:
Nandina domestica ‘Blush’
Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’
Nandina domestica ‘Lemon Lime’
Nandina domestica ‘Moon Bay’
Nandina domestica ‘Moyer’s Red’
Nandina domestica ‘Nana’
Nandina domestica ‘Obsession’
Nandina domestica ‘Royal Princess’
Nandina domestica ‘Sienna Sunrise’
Characteristics of Sacred Bamboo Leaf
The leaves are compound, two or three pinnate, each leaf measuring 4-11 cm long and 0.5-2 cm wide, elliptical to ovate or lanceolate, shiny, petiole swollen at the base, sometimes falling in areas colder.
Young leaves in spring are bright pink to red before turning green. Old leaves turn red or purple again before falling off in winter.
Characteristics of Sacred Bamboo Flower
The inflorescences are panicles that emerge from the leaf axils with many hermaphroditic flowers. There are several ovate-oval sepals with a pinkish-white color and six oval white petals, each measuring 4×2.5 mm. The flowers appear in early summer in cone-shaped clusters located at the tips of the branches.
Characteristics of Sacred Bamboo Fruit
The fruit is a bright red berry, 5-10 mm in diameter, and ripens in late autumn.
Characteristics of Sacred Bamboo Tree
Sacred bamboo is a shrub that reaches 2 meters high and 1.5 meters wide, with many stems.
This plant can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 6-10 with some cultivars hardy in USDA zone 5. Nandina is heat and cold-tolerant, from -23 to 43 °C.
Nandina domestica is considered invasive in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. This plant is placed on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s invasive list as a Category I species, the highest on the list. In general, the purchase or continued cultivation of non-sterile varieties in the southeastern United States is not recommended.
The plant has also become invasive in wild areas far north, and in May 2017 it was added to Maryland’s invasive plant list with tier 2 status.
Although widely planted in Texas for its tolerance to dry conditions, the fruiting Nandina variety is considered invasive there. This is primarily caused by birds spreading seeds into natural areas where Nandina breeds and crowding out native species, either through seeding or through underground growth of rhizomatous stems.