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Pyracantha coccinea

Previously known as:

  • Cotoneaster pyracantha
Phonetic Spelling
pi-ra-KANTHa kok-SIN-ee-a
Description

The scarlet firethorn is a broadleaf evergreen to semi-evergreen ornamental shrub that usually grows upright and stiff to 6 to 18 feet tall and equally as wide. In the spring, clusters of white flowers appear with shiny, dark green leaves. The stems have sharp spines, and bright orange to red berries are seen in the fall. Frequently, scarlet firethorn may be displayed or trained as espaliers on a wall or fence. It is a member of the Roseaceae or rose family.

Scarlet firethorn is native to south central and southern Europe and as far east as Iran. It has been introduced in the United States. It may be found in disturbed sites, along roadsides, and in coastal shrub or prairie areas. Scarlet Firethorn has been reported as invasive in some countries and in the States of Texas, Georgia, and California, but this has not been substantiated

The genus name, Pyracantha, is derived from two Greek words, pyr, meaning fire, and akantha, meaning thorn. This name refers to the thorny branches and the bright crimson fruit. The epithet, coccinea, is from the Latin word coccineus, that means scarlet.

This shrub prefers full sun to partial shade, dry to moist, well-drained soils. It is tolerant of clay soils, drought, and hot, dry conditions. It is also moderately salt tolerant and does best in acidic to neutral soils. In colder climates, it is best practice to protect or shelter this shrub from cold winds. It can become overgrown quite easily and will need to be regularly pruned. Thorns are challenging when pruning. It can be sheared, but severe pruning right after flowering will affect fruit set. This plant is difficult to transplant. 

It blooms in late spring to early summer and has showy but has extremely fetid flowers. The red berries mature in fall and persist though winter. Sharp spur thorns are present on stems. Fruits are enjoyed by birds, and they distribute the seeds. Deer tends to avoid this shrub, mostly likely due to the sharp spines.

Scarlet Firethorn is often confused with P. koidzummii or Formosa Firethornbut it is distinguished by the leaves that are broadest at the middle and taper upward, whereas Formosa Firethorn's leaves are widest apically and are truncate. Scarlet Firethorn is more tolerant to cold weather than Formosa Firethornbut it will still need protection from cold blasts of wind and winter frost.

Scarlet Firethorn is an impenetrable hedge that can be used for screening, to define property lines, or for security.  Plant away from high traffic areas or where children and pets frequent.  It works well in mass plantings and is effective on slopes for erosion control. It grows relatively rapidly and can be trained against a wall or espalier or border. It also does well as a specimen plant. The beautiful red berries are relished by the birds and are available from summer to fall or until eaten by the birds. 

Seasons of Interest: 

Bloom: Spring and Summer   Foliage: Year-round    Fruit:  Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • broadleaf evergreen to semi-evergreen shrub with stiff, thorny spur branches
  • bark is reddish-brown, smooth, and has many lenticels
  • young stems are pubescent, with age become smooth, glossy reddish-brown with many spines 
  • leaves are shiny, dark green, alternate, simple, evergreen to semi-evergreen, narrowly elliptic, ovate or lanceolate, 1 to 2.5 inches long, undersides paler and pubescent
  • flowers are white, fetid, 5-petaled, and about 1/3 inch in diameter, appear in 2 to 3-inch tight clusters 
  • fruit is a pome but appears berry-like, showy, orange-red, measure 1/4 inch in diameter, and appears in tight clusters.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  The Scarlet Firethorn may be susceptible to scab, fire blight, and wilt. Potential insects that may be problematic include aphids, lace bugs, and scale.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Paul J Ciener Botanical Garden Lush Foundation Planting Woodland Backyard Garden Walk Lush Foundation Planting
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Apache'
    fire blight and scab resistant, red berries, 5 to 6 feet tall
  • 'Fiery Cascade'
    good disease resistance, orange berries turn red during the winter
  • 'Gnome'
    cold hardy, resistant to scab, orange berries
  • 'Kasan'
    spreading habit, bright red orange fruits
  • 'Lowboy'
    spreading habit, 2 to 5 feet tall, bright orange berries
  • 'Mohave'
    resistant to fire blight and scab, big orange red berries
  • 'Red Cushion'
    disease resistant, compact, bright red berries
  • 'Teton'
    cold hardy, golden yellow berries, resistant to fire blight and scab
  • 'Tiny Tim'
    compact, 3 feet tall, no thorns, red berries
'Apache', 'Fiery Cascade', 'Gnome', 'Kasan', 'Lowboy', 'Mohave', 'Red Cushion', 'Teton', 'Tiny Tim'
Tags:
#cultivars#thorns#evergreen#drought tolerant#white flowers#semi-evergreen#wildlife plant#salt tolerant#broadleaf evergreen#low maintenance#spring flowers#fall interest#espalier#security plant#erosion control#showy fruits#hedges#cpp#deer resistant#red fruits#fantz#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#malodorous#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Apache'
    fire blight and scab resistant, red berries, 5 to 6 feet tall
  • 'Fiery Cascade'
    good disease resistance, orange berries turn red during the winter
  • 'Gnome'
    cold hardy, resistant to scab, orange berries
  • 'Kasan'
    spreading habit, bright red orange fruits
  • 'Lowboy'
    spreading habit, 2 to 5 feet tall, bright orange berries
  • 'Mohave'
    resistant to fire blight and scab, big orange red berries
  • 'Red Cushion'
    disease resistant, compact, bright red berries
  • 'Teton'
    cold hardy, golden yellow berries, resistant to fire blight and scab
  • 'Tiny Tim'
    compact, 3 feet tall, no thorns, red berries
'Apache', 'Fiery Cascade', 'Gnome', 'Kasan', 'Lowboy', 'Mohave', 'Red Cushion', 'Teton', 'Tiny Tim'
Tags:
#cultivars#thorns#evergreen#drought tolerant#white flowers#semi-evergreen#wildlife plant#salt tolerant#broadleaf evergreen#low maintenance#spring flowers#fall interest#espalier#security plant#erosion control#showy fruits#hedges#cpp#deer resistant#red fruits#fantz#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#malodorous#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Pyracantha
    Species:
    coccinea
    Family:
    Rosaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southern Central & Southern Europe to Iran
    Distribution:
    Native: Albania, Bulgaria, France Greece, Iran, Italy, Krym, Lebanon-Syria, North Caucasus, Spain, Switzerland, Trans Caucasus, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. Introduced: United States--AL, AR, CA, GA, IN, KS, LA, MS, MO, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, and WA; Canada--British Columbia, Northern Provinces, Ontario; Corse, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Peru, Portugal, and Uzbekistan.
    Wildlife Value:
    Fruits are enjoyed by birds. This shrub is particularly resistant to damage by deer.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Food Source
    Dimensions:
    Height: 6 ft. 0 in. - 18 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 8 ft. 0 in. - 18 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Semi-evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Arching
    Erect
    Open
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
    Appendage:
    Spines
    Thorns
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Pome
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a pome but appears berry-like. They are showy, orange-red, measure 1/4 inch in diameter, and appear in tight clusters. Birds are attracted to the fruits and spread the seeds. The fruits appear in the fall and can persist through the winter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Corymb
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The showy flowers are white, fetid, 5-petaled, and about 1/3 inch in diameter. They appear in tight clusters or corymb on spurs of last year's growth. The clusters measure 2 to 3 inches long. Blooming occurs from spring to early summer.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Semi-evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Lanceolate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Crenulate
    Entire
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are shiny, dark green, alternate, simple, evergreen to semi-evergreen, narrowly elliptic, ovate or lanceolate, acute, cuneate, crenulate-serrulate to entire, and 1 to 2.5 inches long. The undersides of the leaves are paler and pubescent.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Lenticels
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is reddish-brown, smooth, and has many lenticels.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Hairy
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    Initially, the stems are pubescent, but then become smooth, glossy reddish-brown with many spines that are less than an inch long and small buds.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Slope/Bank
    Vertical Spaces
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Edible Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Foundation Planting
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Screen/Privacy
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Salt