Nandina is a popular plant for its ornamental value. The brilliant scarlet berries make a wonderful show against the dark green foliage of this shrub. Landscapers and gardeners include it because of the beautiful color contrasts. The new leaves emerge in pink hues and gradually turn red before becoming green. In autumn, the leaves once again become red and sometimes even purple. Although nandina is attractive, you may be concerned about the toxicity of the berries.
Nandina is also known by the common names heavenly or sacred bamboo. All parts of the plant contain cyanide compounds. When ingested, the cyanide decomposes in the body to form hydrogen cyanide which can be fatal. The amount of berries consumed plays a role in the severity of the poisoning.
There are many different Nandina cultivars, all containing cyanide, although some may have higher levels than others.
Do Nandina Berries Contain Any Toxic Substances?
Nandina berries contain cyanogenic glycosides, which are a form of cyanide. When the cyanide is ingested, it hydrolyzes in the body and forms hydrogen cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide prevents the body from utilizing oxygen, and the body is described as being anoxic.
Nandina berries also contain other alkaloids, one of which is nantenine. Nantenine is being investigated as a possible antidote for overdoses of the drug ecstasy (MDMA). It has been shown, however, that large doses of nantenine can cause seizures.
Are Other Parts Of Nandina Toxic?
Cyanide is found throughout the nandina plant. The leaves, stems, branches, and roots are all considered to be toxic and should not be ingested. The highest cyanide levels are found in the berries.
Are Nandina Berries Poisonous To Children?
Small children are naturally drawn to bright-colored objects, and unfortunately, nandina berries fulfill all the criteria to attract children. The small red berries entice children into eating them as they resemble many candies.
Children may also be familiar with eating red fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, and cherries. They may mistake the nandina berries for some other edible fruit.
A study done in 2018 showed that between 2000 and 2015, there were 875 cases of nandina poisoning in children under five years in Texas. In 709 of these cases, evidence was found indicating that the children had eaten berries. The remaining cases did not mention whether berries were found or not. 40.8% of the cases were one-year-old children, and 37% were two-year-old children. 57,3% of the 709 cases that mentioned berries found that only one berry had been eaten, but this was toxic enough to need emergency treatment.
The symptoms included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Nandina berries are therefore toxic to children and should not be planted in areas where children have access to them. Ingestion of a high number of berries could be fatal.
Can Birds Eat Nandina Berries?
Nandina berries are usually seen on the plant in late autumn when the fruit of many other trees has died off. Some people plant nandina for birds, assuming that it will help feed the birds in a season where food becomes scarce.
Unfortunately, nandina berries are toxic to birds. In April 2009, a large number of cedar waxwings were found dead in a garden in Georgia. Postmortem examinations showed that these birds had all eaten nandina berries.
The birds had severe hemorrhages throughout their bodies, including the internal organs, heart, and brain. The cause of death was determined to be hemorrhaging due to poisoning from nandina berries.
Nandina bears berries in autumn, and they may last through the winter. Hungry birds feast on the berries because of the scarcity of other food, and poisoning of entire flocks can occur.
Are Nandina Berries Toxic To Dogs And Cats?
Dogs and cats are susceptible to cyanide poisoning if they eat nandina berries or chew on any part of the nandina plant. The more berries or plant matter that the dog or cat eats, the more symptoms it will show.
Symptoms of cyanide poisoning will be seen approximately fifteen to twenty minutes after eating nandina berries. The following symptoms may be seen:
- Drooling from nausea
- Difficulty breathing
- The mucous membranes in the mouth and eyes will look bright red
- The animal’s pupils will be dilated and will not diminish in size if a light is shone in the eyes.
- The heart rate will be high
- There may be bleeding from the nose
- There may be an unusual smell ( like bitter almonds) on the animal’s breath.
- Death can occur rapidly depending on the animal’s size and the quantity of the plant eaten.
Nandina should not be planted in a garden where dogs and cats live as it is toxic. If your dog or cat has eaten nandina berries or any part of the nandina plant, take them to the nearest vet immediately.
What Happens If Livestock Eat Nandina Berries?
Nandina is classified as an invasive weed by the US Department of Agriculture. This means that it may find its way into fields or pastures where livestock graze. The bright red berries are attractive to animals. They may eat the berries or consume the whole plant, especially if grazing is in short supply.
Ruminants such as sheep, goats, and cows are very susceptible to cyanide poisoning from a nandina. The plant material is readily hydrolyzed in their complex gastrointestinal system. They will exhibit symptoms in twenty to sixty minutes after eating nandina.
- Difficulty breathing
- Cherry red mucous membranes
- Death within a few hours
Horses, mules, and donkeys are also at risk of poisoning from nandina plants. The primary concern would be a gastrointestinal disturbance that could easily lead to death from colic.
A continuous low intake of nandina plant material may not cause any sudden symptoms in livestock, but they will begin to show neurological signs. Tremors, abnormal gait, head tilts, and seizures may be seen.
Nandina berries are toxic to all animals and humans. The amount consumed affects the severity of the symptoms, but even a small quantity is enough to make the person or animal sick. Large quantities are deadly, and death can occur rapidly.