“Nandina domestica grows, as it should with such a specific name, close to the house, and as it does in Japan, where every garden, however small, possesses a specimen close by the door….
“One would like to think it was so favoured on account of its beauty, but I have been told that it produces wood with an aromatic flavour that is valued by the Japanese as being the most tasty and suitable for a toothpick. If this be true the poetry of the name domestica vanishes, so let us hope it is false….
“Anyway, I grow the plant for its beauty, and like to remember that Celestial Bamboo is one of its old names. It does well here, I believe, chiefly because it is shaded by a screen of Ivy from the southern sunshine, and it is practically evergreen, only losing its leaves after severe winters….
“My plant is five feet high and beautiful all the year, perhaps most especially so when the young leaves are every imaginable shade of crimson, copper, and bronze, and contrast with the deep green old ones…. The fine red berries that are produced freely in warmer countries, and especially in the gardens round Pau, where they are largely used for Christmas decorations, are never ripened here, or it might well be at its best in Winter.”
From “The Botanic Garden in the Nineteenth Century” in Botanic Gardens: A Living History by Nadine Monem:
“By the nineteenth century European botanic gardens, most notably the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, were sending botanists on plant-hunting expeditions and establishing colonial botanic gardens as outposts to hold and propagate plants destined to be sent back to parent institutions. Scotland’s Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh was also active in funding expeditions to remote areas. Its roster of intrepid botanical explorers includes David Douglas, 1799-1834, for whom the Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) of northwestern America is named, and Robert Fortune, 1812-1880, whose plant-hunting skills are immortalised in the Euonymus fortunei.
“Kew sent Joseph Hooker, 1817-1911, EH ‘Chinese’ Wilson, 1876-1930, and many other notable botanists to far-away lands, while the Royal Horticultural Society sponsored several plant hunters, including William Forsyth, 1737-1804, one of whose discoveries is honoured by the name of the shrub Forsythia. The Cambridge University Botanic Garden was the beneficiary of numerous herbarium specimens that Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, collected during his five year voyage on the HMS Beagle and later sent to its director, John Stevens Henslow, 1796-1861, his former professor and mentor….
“Partly because of the exciting discoveries of these explorers, botanic gardens also became horticultural showcases, thus stimulating the growth of the nursery industry and the introduction of exotic plants into private gardens during this period.”
Both nandina and euonymus are considered evergreen shrubs, and easy to find all around the southeast (and in many parts of the world). I seem to see them most often in the winter, probably because the color of their leaves shifts along with the rest of the autumn leaves; but unlike trees, both shrubs tend to hang onto their leaves all winter. So I spy them as splashes and shades of red, purple, or pink from late winter through early spring, while much of the rest of the landscape has gone leafless. Some of their leaves will drop into colorful piles at the base of the plant, but those that stay put will do so until new leaves push them off their stems. The berries are often red or pink (see, for example, photos at the bottom of my post Seven Days to Christmas: When Nature Does the Decorating); but occasionally I see some that are especially adorable in yellow or orange.
Until I found the quote from E. A. Bowles about nandina above, I wasn’t aware of the Japanese custom of planting them near a front door. It surprised me because there is one nandina — the only one on my property — growing near my front door, oddly stuck and surrounded by concrete in a small space between the front porch steps and the outside wall of my living room. Despite being cut to the ground — and enduring waterfalls of rain from the roof just above it — it has returned every year since 2005, producing a handful of thin stems with slender green leaves, then changing color and producing berries every fall.
I had always thought my nandina was a displaced invader — assuming it had grown from a seed that had blown in and taken root — and have cut it down several times. Now, after reading Bowles, I wonder if someone planted it there on purpose — as an oriental greeting, a symbol that means “Welcome to my house.” I suppose I’ll treat it differently now — let it grow a little wild, I think — as this bit of mystery-history is something I won’t forget.
The first ten photos below are of several euonymus shrubs, “euonymus” being a word I kept misspelling as “eunonymous” (you know, like: I’m anonymous and you’re you-non-ymous) — but now I think I got it right. Their leaves tend to be round or teardrop-shaped, clearly different from the slim, pointed nandina leaves in the next seven photos. These seventeen images are followed by three of each shrub, with their backgrounds rendered in black.
Thanks for reading and taking a look!