The brilliant crimson berries of pyracantha shrubs brighten dismal winter landscapes across the United States. These easy-to-grow members of the Rosaceae plant family originated in Europe and western Asia. "Pyracantha," in Greek, means "firethorn," the common name of this evergreen shrub. Sharp, protruding thorns can serve as deterrents to intruders and trespassers when pyracantha bushes are planted by a window or en masse along a border.
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Reaching an equal height and spread of about 10 feet, the ornamental pyracantha shrub can be coaxed into growing flat against a wall or trellis. These perennials prefer full sun and well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Glossy green leaves grow 1 inch wide and up to 4 inches long. Malodorous, albeit showy, white flower clusters open in spring before the thick bunches of stunning fruit appear, growing along woody branches produced the previous year. Pyracantha berries ripen in autumn, delighting avian wildlife that feast on the fruit throughout the winter.
The cold hardy Teton cultivar boasts golden yellow fruit and can reach a height of 12 feet with a 4-foot spread. Also cold-hardy, the Gnome hybrid, with a 6-foot height and 8-foot width, produces orange berries, and fruit of the same colour emerges on the low-spreading Lowboy, which only grows to about 3 feet high. The 12-foot-tall and -wide Mojave yields a profusion of large, orange-red berries. The orange fruit of Fiery Cascade turns red during the winter; this cultivar reaches a height of 8 feet and breadth of 9 feet.
Two diseases inflict serious damage to pyracantha shrubs: fire blight, a bacterial disease that causes blossoms to blacken and shrivel, and a fungal condition known as scab that darkens the berries and causes defoliation. Raking fallen leaves and removing dead branches and twigs as well as spraying with fungicides alleviate the spread of these afflictions. Disease-resistant hybrids include Fiery Cascade, Mojave and Teton.
Aphids and scales lay eggs on pyracantha shrubs that cause subsequent harm to the plants. Aphids suck the sap from leaves and stems, but spraying horticultural oil and insecticidal soap helps to control these pests. Scales produce an abundance of sticky honeydew onto pyracanthas that leads to the development of sooty mould. Administering insecticides to the entire plant in spring can control scale infestation.
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- Mississippi State University; Southern Gardening; Pyracantha Steals Landscape Shows; Norman Winter; Nov. 25, 2008
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension; Pyracantha; Marjan Kluepfel, et al; May 1999
- University of Arkansas; Division of Agriculture; Cooperative Extension Service; Plant Database -- Shrubs; 2006
- The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; Firethorn (Pyracantha); Apr. 25, 2007