Nandina berries

I’ve often admired Nandina, but no longer. Turns out the berries are extremely toxic, killing anything that eats them, particularly birds. While it doesn’t grow in my planting zone, for those who have it in their yard, at the very least, the berries should be removed, or better yet, replace the plant with a native that birds can eat.

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I photographed these beautiful Nandina berries outside a church-turned-antique-artists place near the book fair. I was pretty certain they were Nandina berries, but in my web research, I discovered that Nandina domestics berries are actually POISONOUS to birds that frequently eat them (as well as cats, dogs, etc.). This article recommends either removing the plants entirely or at least cutting the berries off when they appear if you want to keep the shrubs (which have beautiful fall coloring).

Read more here.


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About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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46 Responses to Nandina berries

  1. Alice says:

    Very weird. Along the outer side of the CVS building, where I pick up meds, are a row of yew shrubs w/ bright red berries. There are many ‘unknowledgeable’ people. I hope they keep their kids away from the shrubs. I wonder if the pharmacists are aware?

    • Eliza Waters says:

      While I’ve known about Yew berries being poisonous to us, this is the first I’ve heard of a berry being poisonous to birds. Birds here eat poison ivy after all. I wonder if perhaps the birds in Asia where this grows leave it alone?

  2. Vicki says:

    In our second family home, my Mother used to grow several Nandina plants. I never knew their berries were poisonous and I don’t think my Mother did either (although she was extremely knowledgeable about plants and a fantastic gardener).

    (that’s a lovely photo too, I might add).

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Does Nandina grow in HI? It is used all over the South and in CA. It is so commonly grown that I wonder how many bird deaths result from its use?

      • Bela Johnson says:

        Aren’t birds too smart to eat this stuff? We have a holly bush right by a strawberry guava tree. The Holly Bush makes red berries that the birds and never touch. But they gobbled up the guava like nobody’s business! I don’t know if Nandina grows in Hawaii.

  3. Very interesting… Nandina is my favorite shrub. I only have one here but there were A LOT at my home in Mississippi. Birds ate the berries on the holly and occasionally the Nandina. I had no idea they are toxic so I guess I better remove the berries. Thanks for sharing!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thank you, Lonnie. Like doctors, we gardeners have a responsibility to ‘do no harm.’ Being not native, birds here have not learned to steer clear of its berries.

  4. Athira says:

    Nice snap and thank you for the information, that I never knew that its a poisonous one..

  5. I have one shrub, a tall, leggy specimen that’s probably struggling. It has produced one or two clusters of berries, but I had no idea they are poisonous, and haven’t observed any birds eating them (although the berries eventually disappeared, so… ) I will look out for berries and remove any that show up, especially as many birds visit the garden.

  6. Whoa. I did not know this and they are planted all around me here in our campground. Jumping to the full post to read in detail. Thank you for sharing this, Eliza.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      When I read about the excruciating death of flocks of cedar waxwings, I was appalled. And the fact that it has escaped cultivation is even more alarming. God forgive us. 😦

      • I’ve saved the original post and am going to look into it further myself. I am appalled too. And here I was thinking that we had all these luscious berries around us so wonderful for the birds. So far, I have not seen any birds even attempting to land and eat them, thank goodness. I’m going to keep an eye on this, I hope they know not to eat them. 😦

  7. Kris P says:

    I knew they were poisonous but I’d always understood that the birds avoided such plants. The story about cedar waxwings has me rethinking my plan to replant Nandina to screen our new HVAC units.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      I’m glad to hear that, Kris. As long as we make better choices, wildlife (and domestics) aren’t at risk for a horrible death. Apparently, several states are now listing it as invasive, literally a ‘growing’ problem.

  8. Anne says:

    It is good to spread the word about toxic ornamental plants. The more we know, the more we are likely to react, the better for the environment! A quick search on Google shows it is a plant touted by nurseries in South Africa too.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      It is alarming to learn that so little info is available when making landscape choices. I think the general rule is always native species are the best. It is sad that yet more animals suffer from our poor choices. 😦

  9. cindy knoke says:

    My gardener planted some to replace the flowers he forgot to water while I was gone. I know they are awful, but I have seen no birds eat them, still I need to get them pulled….

  10. I don’t know if I ever seen these berries.

  11. gwenniesgardenworld says:

    Aparently they also kill cats, cows, horses… horrible !!

  12. That’s good to know – I bought my mom one last year, will warn her. Thank you!

  13. There are many fruitless Nandina varieties. That particular one is verboten by code in many places as it is considered invasive.

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  15. They do look good enough to eat. Blech. Good to know to avoid although I don’t forage. It’s interesting that so many animals, us included, can be poisoned by fruits since many require ingestion as a form of dispersal. Guess some don’t like the trip.

  16. naturebackin says:

    Thanks for this information and for spreading the word.

  17. nshami14 says:

    Thanks for the info. I love Nandinas and have them in my border garden. Never seen berries on them though.

  18. tonytomeo says:

    I was not aware that anything would eat them. That is part of the appeal. The berries stay until they rot or desiccate and fall.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      From what I read it seems that Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings are the most common victims. They haven’t adapted to this new invasive. Perhaps planting only the non-fruiting varieties is the best answer.

      • tonytomeo says:

        Most are grown more for their foliage (here), and because so-called ‘gardeners’ shear them so regularly (really), berries are rare. As much as I like the foliage, I see no point in growing nandina if deprived of its foliar texture by shearing. I happen to remove all of what I find at work anyway, not because I do not want it around, but because it has spread away from where it was planted, and mixed with other perennials, and gotten into cracks in retaining walls. Also, eliminating it is more practical than trying to remove the berries. The berries have always been a bother for us because that is how they self sow where we do not want them. Like I say, even though I think it is pretty in the right situations, I do not want it here.

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