Nandina: The Invasive Bird-Killing Shrub and Its Alternatives

By Mary Gumerov, Assistant Uplift Crew Leader

 

Nandina, also known as Heavenly Bamboo, is a decorative evergreen shrub ubiquitous across residential and commercial landscapes in the United States. Nandina's bright foliage and crimson berries made the shrub a popular choice for homeowners and landscapers to add color during the winter season since the 19th century. But, Nandina proved to be a highly aggressive invasive that not only encroaches on native habitats but also contains lethal levels of cyanide that poisons wildlife, especially berry-eating birds.




The shrub's colorful berries entice hungry birds such as the Cedar Waxwing, the Northern Mockingbird, and the American Robin to feast on the cyanide-filled fruit when all other food sources are exhausted in the late winter months. In fact, 2009 exposed the devastating impact of Nandina when dozens of Cedar Waxwings were found dead in Thomas County, Georgia, with Nandina berries found in the Cedar Waxwings' systems.



Nandina domestica. Photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff.


Thankfully, there are alternatives to Nandina that preserve local wildlife and supply fresh color during the chilly winter months. Evergreen natives such as the Inkberry and American holly produce eye-catching berries that feed at least 15 different species of birds. The Eastern Red Cedar is another evergreen native that bears colorful cones that support birds, rabbits, foxes, and raccoons.



Shrubs such as the American Beautyberry provide striking violet berries that persist through the winter and are a favorite of the Northern bobwhite quail, a species struggling with population decline from lack of shelter and reliable food sources. Another excellent alternative is the Winterberry, which feeds over 48 species of birds and mammals with its radiant ruby-colored berries.



Ilex opaca, American holly. Photo by Bill Hill.


Another way to manage Nandina on your property is to clip its white flowers in the summer to prevent the shrub from producing berries in the fall and winter. If the shrub already contains berries, removing them with pruners can be a simple way to manage the noxious plant, which an EcoCrew could gladly do for you.


Check out our YouTube page for how to remove the berries, as well as find other watershed stewardship resources: https://youtu.be/mjJQl_1J--0


 

Sources:


5 Reasons You Don’t Want Nandina in Your Yard:

https://nativebackyards.com/5-reasons-you-dont-want-nandina-in-your-yard/

Toxicity Due to Nandina Domestica in Cedar Waxwings:

https://vet.uga.edu/toxicity-due-to-nandina-domestica-in-cedar-waxwings-bombycilla-cedroru/


Habitat Tips: Winter berries for Wildlife:

https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/HabichatArchive/Habichat39.pdf


Maryland Birds: Northern Bobwhite Quail:

https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/plants_wildlife/BobWhiteQuail.aspx


Photos:

American holly:

https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/1434


Nandina:

http://mdinvasives.org/iotm/feb-2018/



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