The na­ture of things

Firethorns

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

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

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