Monday, January 30, 2012

What's In a Name?: Nandina and Other Baby Names

My siblings sometimes tease me that if I had children they would be named after plants.
But not Hazel or Heath,
Aspen or Iris,
Rowan or Violet,
Poppy or Primrose,
Saffron or Yves.

I probably wouldn’t call my child Rose or Lily or Jasmine, or even Willow or Honeysuckle.  I appreciate the recent vogue for slightly old-fashioned names like Myrtle, Fern, Olive and Daisy.  But why not take it a step further?

Veronica, Daphne, Nyssa, Erica, Angelica, Carissa, Felicia, Nigella, Thalia, Petunia and Viola are all plant genera and lovely, lovely baby names.  Magnolia, Andromeda, Anemone, Calla, Calypso, Dahlia, Narcissus and Camellia serve both functions as well.  Artemis was the Greek Diana, so why not name a child Artemisia to capture that history and celebrate the silvery shrub?  Cosmos instead of Cosmo.  Gladiolus instead of Gladys.  Amaryllis instead of Mary or Lily or May.

And then, what about names directly from plant nomenclature?  Can you imagine a sturdy little boy named Acer or Cedrus?  Kerria, Phlox, Alyssum and Nerine (pronounced nay-REE-knee) would be perfect for a quartet of gardener’s daughters.  And I like the idea of Nandina.

As in…
nan                  (Ann with N in front)
DEE                  (Sandra or Ruby Dee)
nah                  (the end of China or Botswana).

The emphasis is on DEE.
Most folks usually run the last two syllables together and say nan-DEAN-ah.
Commonly known as Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina is a multi-stemmed, evergreen shrub from the Barberry family.  Mainly grown for its cheerful, almost lacy, bamboo-like foliage, Nandina also sports panicles of milky white, late-spring-into-summer flowers followed by clusters of little red berries.  Leaf colors range from dark black-purple to emerald green to blazing red, depending on the cultivar.  New growth is often tinged pink or burgundy.  And Nandinas have been bred in almost every size from dwarf groundcovers to major specimen shrubs.  Originally from Asia, all are cultivars of the species Nandina domestica.

Nandina handles full sun to partial shade.  Although it seems to bloom best, and therefore fruit more, in sun.  It tolerates high humidity and drought, once established, and can live for years with very little maintenance in Zones 5-10… and often survives north to Zone 4 and south to Zone 11.  We have a pair flanking our front steps that are decades old and easily battle the extreme southeast exposure year after year.  The bushes provide shelter for birds and embellishments for Christmas wreaths or centerpieces.  And their flowers make our garden bees very happy.

I think the local Nandina shrubs have appreciated our rather mild winter so far.  They look gorgeous, even in the most inhospitable locations.

But Nandina can be problematic because it is so persistent and easy-care.  Roots and berries are poisonous to domesticated animals, and I suppose, humans, but not birds.  So plants can readily spread by suckers and seed.  Nandina is often planted en masse in public landscapes and suburban gardens and has basically naturalized in forests and wild areas of the Deep South, sometimes becoming invasive.

I still think Nandina is an attractive, useful plant but I don’t recommend adding it to your garden if you live below Zone 7.  Enjoy the ones you and your neighbors already have.  Consider an evergreen Viburnum for your backyard… and the name Nandina for a happy, graceful child in your life.
Over the years, there have been many Hollys and Heathers, Laurels and Reeds, a couple Cherrys and Lavenders and Ivys.  Rosemary is a family name, but more as a tribute to past Roses and Marys rather than the popular herb.  I’ve known a Bracken, a Sage and a Rose-of-Sharon but never a Hyacinth!  So why not a Nandina?

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