Saturday, October 16, 2010

Appreciating Pyracantha by Elaine Lockey

Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea, is one of our showiest fall shrubs.  The first time I saw one I did one of those drive-by double takes, turning my car around so I could get a closer look.  Then I said to myself, “I have to have this plant.”

Ask gardeners who have Firethorn in their gardens and you’ll get a wide range of opinions as to its usefulness.  The biggest complaint has to do with it’s ½ - ¾” long thorns, hence the common name Firethorn.  This is a plant that you want to put in a place where it can grow to its full potential without much pruning.  Depending on the cultivar, it can range from 3’-10’+ ft height and spread. It is not advised to shear it and pruning should only be done occasionally to maintain its natural beautiful shape.  Believe me, the less you have to prune this the more your arms will thank you. The one exception to this is that Firethorn makes a beautiful espalier! Due to its thorns you would want to avoid putting it right next to sidewalks or other traffic areas unless you want to keep people and animals out of a certain area. Great to keep those pesky neighbor kids from short-cutting across your garden!

This is truly a four-season plant. It offers showy white flowers in the spring, evergreen lustrous green leaves, and its best known feature- orange or scarlet berries, actually berry-like pomes, fall into winter. It generally has an upright open shape but can be highly irregular and arching. Birds love eating the berries and it offers great cover for birds from predators. Plant this by a window to see all the bird visitors up close. It is considered deer resistant, always an added benefit.  The berries also make excellent jelly! (see recipe below) I would recommend either planting Firethorn as a specimen plant or using it as an attractive thicket-like mass planting.

Firethorn is hard to transplant so plant it where you will not want to move it in the future.  It grows better in full sun, however, the leaves can sometimes burn in the full winter sun so a sunny sheltered location would be best. It is best to plant this in the spring as it is slower to establish.  It can be susceptible to fire blight but that is not as commonly found here with this shrub as in other states. Some cultivars are not as winter hardy as others.  A great Xeriscape plant, it does not need much water, ¼- ½ ” of water a month and can withstand dry and droughty conditions once established.
Belonging to the Rose family Rosaceae, Pyracantha coccinea’s native habitat is Italy to Caucasus.

The following cultivars are recommended as best for Colorado to zone 5. They are either selections of Pyracantha coccinea or P. angustifolia:
‘Wyatti’: heavy fruit producer, orange-red fruits
 ‘Gnome’: hardy, medium size, compact form, orange fruits
 ‘Kasan’: very hardy, spreading habit, orange-red fruits
 ‘Lalandei’: vigorous growth, grows to 10’+, hardy and reliable, orange-red fruits
 ‘Pauciflora’: finer textured foliage, lighter fruit producer, 4’ ht and spread, orange fruits
 ‘Monon’ and ‘Yukon Belle’: medium size, quite hardy, orange fruits
These different cultivars offer different overall sizes and compactness, fruit colors or heavier fruit production than others.
Plant and enjoy this spectacular and easy to grow shrub, but with one last tip - wear leather gloves and long sleeves when planting this!

Pyracantha Jelly
Place 7 cups washed pyracantha berries in a very large pan with 5 cups of water.
Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain through a cloth.
Measure 3 cups berry juice, ½ cup lemon juice and 7 cups sugar into a very large pan. Over high heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Immediately stir in one bottle liquid pectin, bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat, skim off foam, and pour into sterilized glasses. Follow recommended canning procedures for your altitude.
 (recipe courtesy of Texas Cooperative Extension Service)