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Red pommes of Firethorn (Pyracantha).jpg
Pyracantha branch with berry-like pomes
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Subfamily: Amygdaloideae
Tribe: Maleae
Subtribe: Malinae
Genus: Pyracantha

See text

Pyracantha ("from Greek pyr fire and akanthus a thorn" hence firethorn)[1] is a genus of large, thorny evergreen shrubs in the family Rosaceae, with common names firethorn or pyracantha. They are native to an area extending from Southwest Europe east to Southeast Asia. They resemble and are related to Cotoneaster, but have serrated leaf margins and numerous thorns (Cotoneaster is thornless).


The plants reach up to 6 m (20 ft) tall. The seven species have white flowers and either red, orange, or yellow berries (technically pomes). The flowers are produced during late spring and early summer; the berries develop from late summer, and mature in late autumn.

Fossil record[edit]

A large number of fossil fruits of †Pyracantha acuticarpa have been described from middle Miocene strata of the Fasterholt area near Silkeborg in Central Jutland, Denmark.[2]



Selected cultivars (those marked agm have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit):-

  • 'America'
  • 'Firelight'
  • ’Flava’agm[3]
  • 'Golden Charmer'      
  • 'Golden Dome'
  • 'Lalandei'
  • 'Mohave'
  • 'Navajo'
  • 'Orange Glow'agm[4]
  • 'Rosy Mantle'
  • 'Santa Cruz'
  • Saphyr Rouge = ‘Cadrou’agm[5]
  • Saphyr Orange = ‘Cadange’agm[6]
  • 'Soleil d'Or'
  • 'Teton'agm[7]
  • 'Watereri'


Pyracanthas are valuable ornamental plants, grown in gardens for their decorative flowers and fruit, often very densely borne. Keep in mind the extremely difficult and painful process to prune and maintain the shrubs. The thorns are easily able to puncture human skin, and when successful, the piercing causes a slight inflammation and severe pain. Their dense thorny structure makes them particularly valued in situations where an impenetrable barrier is required. The aesthetic characteristics of pyracanthas, in conjunction with their home security qualities, makes them an alternative to artificial fences and walls. They are also good shrubs for a wildlife garden, providing dense cover for roosting and nesting birds, summer flowers for bees and an abundance of berries as a food source.

Ecological effects[edit]

Pyracantha berries can be dispersed into natural areas, allowing plants to invade natural communities. Species of Pyracantha are considered to be invasive in portions of the United States, including the states of California and Georgia[8]. Orange firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia) is considered to be a weed or potential ("sleeper") weed in several states or territories of Australia, including Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales[9]. As a consequence, importation and propagation are prohibited in some parts of Australia[9].


Pyracantha berries are mildly poisonous as their seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides (as do apples, plums, cherries, and almonds[10]) and can cause mild gastro-intestinal problems when eaten raw in large quantities;[10][11][12] they are edible only when crushed and washed under running water[citation needed]. They have been made into jelly.[13]


In the UK and Ireland Pyracantha and the related genus Cotoneaster are valuable sources of nectar when often the bees have little other forage during the June Gap.


  1. ^ Johnson, A. T.; Smith, H. A. (1972). Plant Names Simplified: Their Pronunciation Derivation & Meaning. Buckenhill, Bromyard, Herefordshire: Landsman Bookshop Ltd. p. 89. ISBN 0-900513-04-7.
  2. ^ Angiosperm Fruits and Seeds from the Middle Miocene of Jutland (Denmark) by Else Marie Friis, The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters 24:3, 1985
  3. ^ [d "RHS Plantfinder - Pyracantha rogersiana 'Flava'"]. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  4. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Pyracantha 'Orange Glow'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  5. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Pyracantha Saphyr Rouge = 'Cadrou'". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  6. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Pyracantha Saphyr Orange = 'Cadange'". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  7. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Pyracantha 'Teton'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  8. ^ "scarlet firethorn: Pyracantha coccinea (Rosales: Rosaceae): Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States". Retrieved 2017-12-31.
  9. ^ a b "Pyracantha angustifolia". Retrieved 2017-12-31.
  10. ^ a b "Plant poisoning -- Cyanogenic glycoside".
  11. ^ "FDA Poisonous Plant Database".
  12. ^ de:Feuerdorn
  13. ^ Questions about Pyracantha answered by Dr Jerry Parsons of the Texas Cooperative Extension (hosted by Texas A&M University)

Media related to Pyracantha at Wikimedia Commons