The nature of things
THE season’s mellow fruitfulness is immeasurably enhanced wherever people have thought to plant pyracantha, the firethorn. The fire part of it comes from its prodigious bunches of small berries, like the most miniature of apples (to which they’re related, both genera being members of the rose family).
Most of the original Pyracantha species produce startling, scarlet berries, the best of which have been bred into numerous fine cultivars, though there are also amber, deep-orange and yellow forms. Given a good season and bright enough aspect, pyracantha’s clusters of tiny, late-spring flowers—very much like those of another of its relatives, the hawthorn—will turn into cascades or even a solid wall of berries as they ripen now.
Many birds love firethorn fruits; pigeons, finches, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds and other members of the thrush family all feast on them. Empirical observation suggests that (as with holly) the red berries are the tastiest, being consumed first; orange berries are tucked into only when the reds have gone or are inaccessible; yellow berries often last well into winter, being turned to only when the larder is looking distinctly bare. The firethorn’s unyielding spines make it tricky to prune, but also make it popular as ‘security’ planting on garden boundaries and provide nesting birds with a little extra protection from predators. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe