Firethorn


If anyone has experience with this shrub they know how aggressive the sharp thorns can be. Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea), otherwise known as firethorn, is a climbing woody shrub that produces bright reddish orange berry-like fruits. They persist late into the fall until the birds devour them.

Many songbirds, especially blue jays gorge on them. Robins, primarily worm eaters, also hit them hard. Fruits become a favorite for wild turkeys if you live on the outer edges of our communities.

This apple relative has semi-evergreen leaves, meaning in the northern parts of its range plants lose their leaves. Around here it is pretty much green all year and in the mountains of North Carolina plants often lose a portion of their foliage.

Pyracantha can be grown as a specimen shrub, a hedge or a climbing vine. It is one that is often trained to grow up a wall, particularly a south facing one. Training to a particular shape such as flat against a wall often requires meticulous pruning.

Pruning this plant can be hazardous to one’s body. The woody thorns can be inconspicuous but penetrate deeply if you grasp too tight. Sometimes trimming is necessary, but if you cut plants back in the fall or when dormant you will eliminate much of the white fragrant bloom and therefore the beautiful fruits.

Try waiting until plants bloom in spring and adjust shape from that point. This shrub is tough. You can cut it to the ground if you want to, but you will sacrifice flowers and fruit for a while. It is also adaptable and will grow almost anywhere. It won’t flower much in the shade and growth will be spindly, so don’t plant it there.

In areas where plants have spread into the wild, they usually don’t become well established under shady canopies. While not overly invasive, these shrubs are quite conspicuous in fall. Often there’s plenty of fruit, which is not poisonous to humans. Many think otherwise, so they aren’t used much.

Pyracantha can be loaded with fruit when grown in sunny locations. We call the fruit berries, but they are really more similar to miniature apples. Correctly, they are termed pomes, as they have a core which contains the seeds.

These pomes are rather sour but won’t hurt you. In fact, they make great jelly if harvested when they are fully ripe and begin to soften. One problem with this is birds become well aware when their palatability increases as well. Once you notice birds helping themselves you must act quickly if you want fruit for jelly.

My preference is to strain the seeds from the juice when making jelly. Firethorn seeds contain cyanide compounds, which in large quantities could pose problems if crushed finely. Swallowing seeds whole presents fewer risks and removing them eliminates the variable.

Jelly flavor is similar to apple or pear. Some people like to put hot pepper in jelly and this might present a clever marketing tool for some entrepreneur. Adding hot pepper juice might create a true “firethorn jelly.”

pyracantha with fruit

Large Pyracantha loaded with fruit

pyracantha coccinea pomes

Close-up of Pyracantha pomes

 

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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23 Responses to Firethorn

  1. I love this shade of red. I think these would make a great jam or jelly but im not sure

  2. il pass on the jelly, but its a cool looking plant i dont want to touch.. planting this in a sunny area would make for a nice plant in a backyard if your trying to block something out of view

  3. awhitenhs12 says:

    This seems like a good tree to plant. Ive bever had any experience with it before but it looks like it will produce good fruit

  4. sbright16 says:

    I would of never knew about these till I read this and I love the color of it

  5. It is nice looking plant, I like the red color it has but as for the jelly im not sure i would try it.

  6. i always see birds in these trees, hey if they like it.. i would prolly try that jelly myself, who knows it could be great.

  7. amandawensel says:

    It seems like this plant would make good jelly, it has a great red color, but i wouldn’t want this plant if its as painful as stated.

  8. It is a really cool looking plant. It kinda reminds me of a small tomato

  9. zachvanett says:

    how long does it take this plant to grow

  10. zachvanett says:

    it looks like a small tomatoes

  11. i think this would be a pretty plant in your yard i will pass on the jelly though

  12. seankathryn says:

    i dont think i would try the jelly…its a cool looking plant though!

  13. They kind of look like tomatoes but have a really pretty color. I’m not too crazy about wanting to try it as a jelly though.

  14. i like the color of the plant. id try the jelly if the hot pepper juice wont in there.

  15. It’s cool that you can make jelly out of this plant, but it is bad that if you try to prune it and grab on to the plant you can penetrate your skin.

  16. kimberlypaigeweaver says:

    This is a really pretty color. I have seen these beofore. I never thought about making jelly out of it, but I would try it.

  17. susiehedley says:

    It’s crazy how high the demand of these pomes are for birds. The hot pepper firethorn jelly seems very good.

  18. the color on this is really cool looking

  19. curtis24 says:

    This shrub looks very cool it would be nice decoration for a yard but it would not be fun to fall on one also it would be cool to watch the birds eat the berries.

  20. jordan2197 says:

    the shrub has a bright red color but it kind of looks like baby tomatoes. I would look god in any yard considering there would be a lot of birds in the tree all the time because the bird love this tree/shrub the leaves are an oval shape they are hazardous to the human body if you land on one of these shrubs or trees it will hurt a lot

  21. those thorns probably hurt so badly

  22. that’s pretty cool how its adaptable and will grow about anywhere.

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