The new leaves of the Nandina are a rich bronze colour and very soft. Somehow they hold the raindrops, even on quite a steeply sloping surface. The mature leaves are tough, dark green and leathery; the raindrops roll straight off them.
Nandina domestica is a very tolerant garden plant. It copes well with shady conditions, stands long periods of drought and tolerates heavy pruning. Its flowers are inconspicuous but the plant makes up for that with strikingly colourful spring growth and rather surprising red berries. None of this explains its ‘common’ name of sacred bamboo. Nandina is a member of the berberris family, not remotely related to bamboos, and doesn’t look much like one either. Maybe it’s just a matter of mistranslation from a common name in the plant’s native Japan.
The bright red berries stayed on this plant right through the winter, until they shriveled up and dropped off. I wondered why the visiting blackbird wasn’t tempted by the berries, until I found out that they contain toxic levels of cyanide and other alkaloids; the bird was right to be wary.
Unfortunately one person’s useful garden plant can be another’s problem weed. In parts of the USA Nandina is regarded as a toxic and noxious invasive plant, threatening local wildlife. In Europe the plant seems content to stay put in parks and gardens, for now.