proud pyracantha

The pyracantha shrub at the extreme east corner of the garden is bursting with abundant berries. Actually, they are technically not berries but pomes, similar in structure to apples and pears. Each fruit contains a tiny clump of seeds surrounded by flesh that is bitter but edible – to both birds and humans. Here are two recipes for pyracantha jelly. I haven’t tried either one yet.

Also known as firethorn, pyracantha is native to Europe and Asia. There are several species with berries that are white, red, or yellow. They also have exceptionally nasty thorns, making them good shrubs for human-impenetrable security hedges.

This particular firethorn used to be a giant ovoid of dense leaves enclosing a thick mass of spiny branches. It was frequently sheared back by gardeners with their awful hedge trimmers. Sadly, there are no photos of its original rather ugly shape. When I took over the garden I chopped it back all the way to stumps, but those were allowed to remain and try again.

It sent up dozens of new stems, many of which I simply pulled right off. New wood emerging from old was very easy to break! In the picture at right (taken in November, 2011) the entire space framed was originally filled with a tall, globular mass of spiny brown branches, covered by a thin shell of tiny leaves.

Within weeks a new, beautiful form grew in, with a radically different shape.

It kept on growing and growing and the remaining shoots became thicker, denser, and more vigorous. Each stem became covered with even more amazingly nasty thorns than the ones the plant used to bear. Each thorn is as long as my little finger, with a super sharp needle point at the tip. Pruning such a vastly spiny creature can be challenging, but the reward is a plant of rare beauty.

In May of 2012, when it had already become taller than the six-foot fence behind it, it covered itself with thousands of gorgeous white flowers that attracted bees, flies, beetles, and many more pollinating insects. Standing next to it, one could hear the combined buzzing of all the bugs.

By  this time it was clearly getting out of control. Although it was densely in bloom, its wide-spreading branches were intruding across the path, causing human pedestrians to risk getting punctured by the sharp spines.

Reluctantly, I pruned it back, right in the middle of its blooming phase. Not good for most plants, but this pyracantha, invigorated by its recent complete chopping back, didn’t seem to even notice. Now the garbage collection guys and my neighbors could pass by without damage.

By June 2012 the flowers had dropped their petals. In their place were vast bunches of small green fruit, promising an abundant crop. One of the smallest, lowest branches of the bush was already so heavy with fruit that it broke off at the base. This was to happen to several other small branches during the rest of the summer as the fruit became heavier and riper.

The berries ripened and turned red quite suddenly, taking less than a week from green to punchy, fluorescent crimson. Now this proud pyracantha stands like a thorny sentinal at the east corner of the deep nature garden.

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