Plant Common Name
These ornamental shrubs or small trees are best known for their clusters of showy, berry-like fruits that typically mature late in the season. There are ten species in the genus Pyracantha and all originate from eastern Asia westward to southeastern Europe. These evergreen, woody plants have upright, bushy or spreading habits and tend to inhabit open forests, tree lines and scrub areas in the wild.
Pyracantha have stems armed with harsh thorns. Their leaves alternate on the stem and tend to be small, oblong, elliptical or rounded with smooth or toothed edges and leathery or slightly fuzzy surface textures. Small, white, five-petaled flowers are produced in flat-topped clusters along the branches in spring or summer. These are slightly fragrant and typically pollinated by bees. Vibrant clusters of little berry-like pome fruits follow. These come in shades of orange, red or yellow and persist into winter until birds and other foraging animals eat them.
Hardiness and culture are species dependent, but in general Pyracantha prefers full or partial sun and is adaptable to a wide range of soil types as long as they are somewhat fertile and have good drainage. These are temperate species that require some winter cold for best growth and flowering. Most are drought tolerant once established. The leaves can suffer from wind desiccation and sunscald, so protect them from strong, cold winter winds and high light. When pruning Pyracantha, it is best to selectively prune stems rather than shearing the plants. Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring. Be sure to leave some flowering branches for that season’s fruit display.
All are easily trained as espalier or bonsai specimens.
Pyracantha shrubs or trees are versatile and usually low-maintenance. They can be planted as informal hedging, in shrub borders or trained to adopt a more formal appearance. Their thorns make them impassable, so they are often planted to deter pedestrians from areas. Their fruit laden branches are long-lasting when cut.
Some desirable landscape-worthy selections include the popular scarlet firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) with its small, evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves, prolific orange-red fruits and sprawling habit. Another fine species is narrowleaf firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia), which is a dense shrub from western China with dark green oblong leaves and abundant golden-orange fruits. There are also lots of fantastic hybrids to choose from like Pyracantha 'Ruby Mound' with its graceful, arching, low spreading branches and glossy red fruit.