It’s November 5th and concealing a lethal threat and fiery qualities at this time of year, pyracantha can be found in many of our parks and gardens. Commonly know as the firethorn (literally from the Greek pyr for fire, and acantha for thorn), pyracantha bears lethal thorns and red, orange or yellow berries in Autumn/Winter; the basis for a plot if ever there was a plant equivalent!
An evergreen shrub, pyracantha grows to a height and spread of up to 4 x 2.5 metres and it thrives in full sun or partial shade in well drained soil. As a fast grower, it’s ideal for hedging and also responds well to wall training – in addition to providing attractive cover, those spiky thorns are a highly effective barrier for security purposes! To ensure plants are given the best opportunity to do well, plant in Autumn or early Spring with a good helping of organic matter, 50 cm from a wall and approximately 50 cm apart, watering regularly until established.
An annual pruning in spring is important if growing as a hedge or wall cover as pyracantha can quickly develop into a rather gangly shape without training – but take care not to remove all of the previous years growth as these stems bear the creamy coloured flowers in early summer and subsequently the beautiful berries – not to be missed.
Pyracantha has a tender side to its nature – bees love the flowers and it’s a really useful food source for birds in winter – if you want blackbirds in your garden, plant a firethorn! On the downside, it’s said to be poisonous to cats and dogs and it can cause upset tummies in humans if eaten raw.
To propagate, I prefer to root semi ripe or hardwood cuttings in preference to growing from seed as the latter need to be stratified over a long cold period for successful germination.
A mix of differing berry colour looks great in a hedge and there’s quite a choice – in addition to the commonly found pyracantha coccinea, varieties include ‘Golden Charmer,’ ‘Orange Glow’ (pictured), ‘Soleil d’Or’ and the more diminutive ‘Red Cushion’
Finally and according to folklore of lore, it’s allegedly used to curse anyone who has caused you property damage or loss!