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Posts Tagged ‘Pryacantha ‘Shawnee’’

When I finished Horticulture school in North Vancouver I was lucky to be picked to work a practicum position over the summer months while school was not in session(the rest of the year students did the work). It was like another 4 months of school which I was paid to attend. We did all the jobs needed at Park & Tilford Gardens ranging from pruning in the rose garden to maintaining the baskets in the huge parking lot. Along with Park & Tilford there was another much smaller shopping center we occasionally did work at, this is where I learned first hand why Firethorn(Pyracantha species)  it’s well deserved  name.

The bright berries of  this Firethorn show up well against this enterance.

The bright berries of this Firethorn show up well against this entrance.

The tip of every branch is ended with a stout thorn which is often completely hidden by the dense evergreen foliage. The first time I pruned one of these shrubs, my leather gloves where punctured and slashed. I also was punctured and it did burn a bit, I was told this was caused by the chemicals the thorn exuded. The name Pyracantha(Pyrakantha) literally means ‘fire-thorn’ in Greek – pyr meaning fire and akantha for thorn.

A wonderfully creative use of Pyracantha espaliered along the enclosure of the Japanese Gardens found at Glendale Gardens in Saanich

A wonderfully creative use of Pyracantha espaliered along the enclosure of the Japanese Gardens found at Glendale Gardens in Saanich.

There are several species of Pyracantha which have been crossed to give us a range of colorful berries and slight variations in leaves. Firethorns come from an area starting in Southern Europe and traveling across Asia to Taiwan. Several species are found in China. Pyracantha coccinea which is found in Italy into Asia Minor was the first to be used horticulturally. It was more formally introduced and named in 1629.

The leaves of this specimen are distinctly different then most commonly seen forms of Firethorn.

The leaves of this specimen are distinctly different then most commonly seen forms of Firethorn. This is Pyracantha 'Navaho'.

Firethorn is one of the most versatile of all shrubs and is used in challenging and varied sites. Often we first come across this shrub used as a barrier in parking lots or  as hedges. In those cases it often is severely pruned and most of its colorful berries are lost. It makes an interesting free form shrub if given the space it needs, as it grows quite large. Better use will be where the berries are highlighted as a wonderful fall feature.  the berries are also edible and one can make a tasty jelly with them.

A colorful espaliered Pyracanatha at the back of a grocery store in Sidney B.C.

A colorful espaliered Pyracanatha at the back of a grocery store in Sidney B.C.

Pyracantha can be worked into most situations. To get the best display of berries and flowers grow them in full sun, they are not particular about soil and will take any situation as long as it is not water-logged. They need adequate water during their May-June blooming period to produce a good berry crop. Firethorn adapts well to poor soil and drought conditions, here we have droughts every year from June through October with no damage to these tough shrubs.  they also survive well in areas with air pollution.  Pryacantha are surprisingly hardy as well, regularly tolerated -15c(-5f) which might cause them to loss some of their leaves.

A stunning yellow form which is rarely seen here. It might be Pyracantha 'Shawnee' but I am not sure.

A stunning yellow form which is rarely seen here. It might be Pyracantha 'Shawnee' but I am not sure.

As you can see, Firethorns can grow to be very tall and wide. It is possible to have a shrub which grows to a space of 4.5m x 4.5m(15ft x 15ft).I have seen them pruned very thin and grown to hide an ugly chain-link fence.   Fortunately Pyracantha can easily be pruned hard into attractive shapes as well. One of the most interesting examples I have seen was when I was in Japan visiting my sister. Christmas trees were created by twisting 2 color forms together into a traditional tree shape, with the berries as bright ribbons of gold and red. they were very festive and all that was missing where the presents. It was very impressive and probably expensive to create.

A very long driveway with a double Pyracantha hedge. This is the famous Woodwyn Farm  in Central Saanich.

A very long driveway with a double Pyracantha hedge. This is the famous Woodwyn Farms in Central Saanich.

When selecting a Firethorn consider the space it will take up first. Many of the newer varieties are smaller and there are even some very compact forms which are used for Bonsai. Choose a berry color which will stands out best for where it is planted. Here the most commonly seen form is Pyracantha ‘Mohave‘ which has a bright orange berry, it is hard to find any other colors which is a pity.

Pyracantha 'Mohave' growing on an arbor, a popular choice in townhouses and condominiums.

Pyracantha 'Mohave' growing on an arbor, a popular choice in townhouses and condominiums.

To learn more about Firethorns:

How to grow this thorny customer: http://www.floridata.com/ref/P/pyra_coc.cfm

A little about the different species of Pyracantha: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyracantha

Until we meet again….

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