Friday, July 29th, 2011...7:03 am

The Pyracantha Shrub

Orange Pyracantha Berries by vns2009

TheGardenLady received this comment from a Dr. Rothberg.

Lilac!  Thanks very much for the garden tour.  I’m full of new ideas, some of which will be used in Nancy and David’s new garden in Chatham….What I was trying to think of (for a climbing plant along a sunny wall) is Pyracantha (firethorn).

Dr. Rothberg was interested in a Pyracantha shrub, a spiny, evergreen-spreading to erect shrub, that can be trained to climb up a sunny wall or espaliered. Though Pyracantha has small fragrant white flowers, it is mainly grown for its lovely yellow, orange or red berries.

TheGardenLady does not have a Pyracantha shrub, but neighbors who had one of the most outstanding gardens in my town had one climbing up a trellis near the wall of their house. The wife used to carefully and meticulously prune the plant. With good reason -  she had to be careful because most Pyracantha shrubs have nasty thorns (there is one that has fewer thorns). These thorns can cause an irritating rash or a burning sensation from the prick. The burning sensation from the prick is one reason people say it was given the common name Firethorn. Not only are the thorns sharp, but some people have had a severe or allergic reaction to a prick from the Pyracantha thorn and had to seek medical treatment; though I do not think this is a common occurrence. But when pruning, it is wise to wear protective clothing and leather gloves. The good thing about the thorns is that deer rarely eat this shrub. Birds will build nests in the shrubs and birds, especially cedar waxwings, will eat the pyracantha berries. The birds first choice seems to be the red berries.

Though the berries are not supposed to be poisonous to humans, the seeds may cause mild stomach upset if ingested according to the A to Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, so I would keep small children away from the berries and the thorns. On the other hand some sources claim the berries are edible and have made jams from the berries.  See here.  According to some sites on the web, some dogs seem to enjoy eating the berries without harm, but some dogs have become sick enough from eating the berries that their owners have taken the dogs to a vet.

Pyracantha Red by Jill Clardy

Pyracantha likes lots of sun- the more the better to produce lots of flowers and berries, though it will grow in partial shade. It wants fertile, well-drained soil but will tolerate most soils and as the plant becomes established, will tolerate drought. The Pyracantha shrubs grow from Hardiness Temp. zone 5 and there are some that will grow in Hardiness Temp. zone 10. On wall-trained plants you will have to do some pruning for it to look good. And in the spring you should remove old fruit to make way for the new fruit.  See here.

There are a number of pests and diseases of Pyracantha including spider mites, lacebug, caterpillars, scale insects, aphids, fireblight, dieback, scab. When buying a Pyracantha shrub look for a hybrid that is most disease resistant. Pyracantha shrubs should NOT be planted near apple trees to prevent the spread of scab disease between the two plants.


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  • Pyracantha a genus of evergreen shrubs in the rose family is commonly called firethorn. Pyracantha produces thick thorns on its branches and puncture wounds cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Pyracantha blooms on old wood wood produced last season so save as much old wood as possible.

  • LaNelle Phillips
    April 6th, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    You have named several pests/diseases of pyracantha: Mine suddenly have limbs dying in the middle of limbs/trunks.
    These are established bushes for privacy fence. How can I save them??

  • We have several pyracantha shurbs and the limbs of one have a white substance on them. What is causing this and what needs to be done to take care of it.

  • I rubbed my eye while holding the berries in a closed fist. Within minutes my eye began to burn and then next my entire eyelid and skin below my eye swelled shut!

  • I brushed against the thorns in the morning and had itchy welts about 12 hrs later. I put raw honey on it to see if that helps the skin heal. Anyone know any remedies for itching relief from this plant?

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