51125Of all the colorful berries that ripen in autumn, firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea, is the most colorful, and also the most familiar. The berries are almost always bright red, deep red or reddish orange. Cultivars with orange berries have become rare. Those with yellow berries are even more rare, and are weaker plants anyway. The berries can linger through winter, but typically get eaten by birds half way through.

Firethorn earns its name with formidable thorns. A hedge of firethorn is more impenetrable than a fence topped with barbed wire, but much more appealing with glossy evergreen foliage. The only problem is that no one wants to prune such a nasty hedge! The arching stems can get taller than ten feet, and without adequate pruning, can easily get as broad. Young plants are limber enough to be espaliered.

The fragrance of the profuse clusters of tiny white flowers that bloom in spring and summer may be objectionable to some. Shade inhibits bloom and subsequent development of berries. Feral seedlings sometimes appear, but they are wimpier, thornier, and less prolific with berries than their modern cultivar parents are.

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10 thoughts on “Firethorn

    1. Yes, they are great for the birds; but they are so pretty if the birds do not take them right away. The birds seem to let them stay longer some years. With only one exception, all the firethorn than I know of here are rich red. I know of only one that is reddish orange. I have not seen a bright orange or yellow firethorn since I was just a kid. If I remember correctly, those with yellow berries were not very vigorous here.

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  1. I grew up in a neighborhood filled with pyracanthas. Our yard had quite a few huge ones, with trunks and branches large and bare enough to climb. Before my parents moved to that area (east S. F. bay area of Walnut Creek) they would drive over in the fall to see the berries.

    I now live in Southern Oregon, where all I can find is the orange kind! There are quite a few planted on the edge of the mall parking lot, by a creek, that are all orange. The local nursery had only orange. No one seems to want them. Mine was so overgrown, it had a large root growing out the bottom the container and the nursery gave it to me for free. It has grown into a healthy bush, but I’d hoped for red like my childhood pyracantha. The berries are smaller than our reds used to be. Cedar waxwing would appear in mass to eat them. My father allowed me to sit on the roof to watch them!

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    1. There were more popular until about the mid 1970s when fireblight became a problem. Since then, they have had other problems like meallybug and scale.
      that is interesting that orange is more popular there. I just mentioned to someone else that only red is popular here. I would have guessed that the same cultivars would be popular in Oregon as well.

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  2. Interesting that you mention the scent of the flowers – that is the number one reason we have never grown pyracantha. I’m not fond of the scent and my husband actively hates it, so we have gone for other berry-producing shrubs to feed our local birds.

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  3. We had pyracantha around the front door in the old house. Great for the blossom and berries but definitely not good for the scent! It was also prone to woolly aphid. But I love the berry colours and will be getting some for the far end of the new garden – once I have thinned out some of the wild blackberries.

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    1. Woolly aphid was a problem here too, back when firethorn was still very popular. Now that it is not so common, the woolly aphid is not so common either. It sort of makes one wonder. The firethorn that I work with are self sown in remote and isolated parts of the landscapes, which is probably why there is not much that bothers them. I miss the berried hedges that I remember from as late as the 1980s.

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