Least Farvorite Plant:–Heavenly Bamboo–Neither Heavenly nor Bamboo

Chickens assist in heavenly bamboo removal.

About a year ago, while searching for a spot for our new and larger compost pile, Mrs. Homegrown suggested ripping out a stand of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) that occupied a shady spot in a corner of our backyard. My reaction? I think I said something like, “No way, it’s been there for twelve years and it took forever to reach three feet.”

Some time later Homegrown Neighbor came over and took a look at the yard. She said, “Why don’t you rip out that awful heavenly bamboo.” Once again I ignored the suggestion.

Last week Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms came over to rethink the garden. Eying the heavenly bamboo she scowled and demanded, “rip it out,” noting that it was ugly, diseased and caked with Los Angeles smog dust.

A few hour later I ripped it out. Needless to say Mrs. Homegrown is dismayed that it takes two experts to confirm something before I’ll listen to her advice.

Marital landscaping disputes aside, it’s not that this plant is inherently evil, it’s just not that interesting. Heavenly bamboo is not a bamboo It’s a member of the Berberidaceae or Barberry family. All parts of the plant are poisonous except to birds who can ingest the berries.While it’s draught tolerant (we never watered it), I don’t miss it. Typically, you see it tucked into forlorn plantings alongside 1960s era bank buildings. I suppose it provides some fodder for the birds, but that’s about it. Perhaps in some Japanese fantasy garden it would fit in next to the tea house, but we ain’t got no tea house.

I guess the lesson here, in addition to listening to your wife, is that gardens change and you’ve got to change with them. As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Gardens, especially, should celebrate that impermanence. Now I have the beginnings of a big compost pile where it once stood.

We’ll detail some of the other changes we’re making in future posts and put up some before pictures. Stay tuned.

Leave a comment


  1. Oh, THAT’S what that terrible plant is. It is omnipresent in thoughtless knee-jerk landscaping down here in Orange County. I have always hated it (mothers generally hate shrubbery that grows poisonous berries), but have never known what it is. Now my contempt has a name.

  2. Ha! Yes, always listen to your wife.
    And you are perhaps starting to comprehend that gardens are dynamic living systems. I personally love taking things out and thinking about the possibilities of what I can do with a new space. I love seeing things change. And plants have limited life spans anyway. People get way too attached to plants with short life spans. Unless its a tree that can live to be over 100 years old, like our native oaks, don’t romanticize it. It wouldn’t be so bad for your yard to lose a pecan tree….

  3. Have to put a comment in supporting the plant. if planted in full sun it will develop a beautiful red color. for us in the desert it is a poorman’s substitute for japanese maple.

  4. I have this giant bush in our front yard that I want to pull out, but I keep saying keep it in! It’s hard to pull something alive, that’s what I think sometimes.

  5. Oh this reminds me of my bamboo troubles. Here in Minnesota we have a plant called Japanese Knotwood. It does look like bamboo and it is considered a noxious weed. The former owner of our house planted it on purpose. When my husband-to-be bought the house he just let it go. When I moved in it was taking over the backyard. I have been trying to kill it for three years now. Three years!

  6. I’ll speak up for the poor Heavenly Bamboo myself, actually. In this case the problem wasn’t the plant, it was us. We didn’t remove the plant when it was time to move on and do something better with the space.

    In the beginning, 12, almost 13 years ago now, when we moved into this house we were newbies at everything, and had not yet developed the idea that we wanted an edible yard. All we knew was that we had an ugly, barren yard and we decide to plant it with drought tolerant plants. And that the Heavenly Bamboo is. It sat in that dark corner for all these years, with no water, no care, and almost no light. God bless it, really. It did its job. But when we needed that space for more important things, Erik clung to it, simply because he was used to it being there. I hate pulling things out, too, but it is an essential part of gardening.

  7. I despise this plant but my boss likes it and wants me to specify it all the time. The only good use I’ve found for it was using the berry stems for miniature trees on 3D landscape models (sans berries that are then replaced with model tree “fluff”).

  8. I don’t believe that the berries are poisonous. When my daughter was 2 she took it upon herself to collect and eat some of them. When we called the poison control center they told us she would be fine and just give her some water.

  9. We call that Nandina here in the South. I love it. No, the berries are not poisonous. Nandina are nice for Christmas. Just cut off sprigs and put them in a vase, alone or with other greenery. There are 8 cardinals who live in my backyard year-round. I believe it is because of all the bushes with berries.

  10. I’ll speak up for this plant too. When I bought my place 14 yrs ago, with a big yard, many of the spaces were lined with these. No watering, no care, some in sun, some in shade, under redwood acidity, they all kept going. Just need a trim every two or three years, they love it. They’re troopers, they’re survivors. They’re not really all that ugly, in my male opinion. Where they are is where they belong. They’re kinda like my good old dog, they’ve been with me a long time, don’t make a fuss, reliable.

    What’s there *not* to like?

  11. Those are very invasive plants. At my last house, I cleared a garden where they had been growing and never did totally get rid of them.

  12. Enjoy the nandina. It is beautiful in airy arrangements; the color changes and are awsome; the berries are great for Christmas decoration; the light green new growth is most beautiful. If all you people who have it and do not water, it is hanging on and probably not performing for you. Give it a little TLC and you will be gratified. You
    will probably decide to keep it.

    • The leaves are very toxic to cats and dogs. If the leaves are ingested, it can be deadly. It’s cyanogenic — basically cyanide. I just spent $1200 saving my dog at the ER. I can’t wait to pull all of it from around my pool yard.

  13. Hi everyone, in my business I’m always removing Nandinas, I decided to bring some home from a job site one day, and liked the way they looked that I went out and purchased one. Like anonymous said with some TLC and in the right spot they are great.

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