Monday, March 30, 2015

Firethorn

This morning, in the drizzly darkness, I was moping around thinking how blah everything looks. Then this came into view - Pyracantha coccinea (correct me if I'm wrong) or firethorn, in full bloom. This really is a beautiful plant. Unfortunately, it's not native. I've noticed over the four years it's been splayed - or espaliered - against the house along the driveway that it never has birds foraging in its berry clusters in the fall and never has butterflies drinking nectar out of its white blossoms in the spring. It's supposed to provide nesting and shelter sites for birds but ... beats me. Never seen a one. It's one of the many insights we have as gardeners as we go along, learning, watching, reading. Were I to pick a plant to espalier along my driveway now, I'd never choose Pyracantha. Pretty as it is, I'm much more interested in a plant that offers more than just colorful fall berries that nobody wants to eat. So I'd probably go with evergreen sumac, a U.S. native that sounds remarkably like firethorn. Rhus virens, or evergreen sumac, gets about the same size, maybe 10 feet high and wide. It has white blossoms and red fruit. It's great for hedges and screens or up against a wall. But here's the difference: Because it's a native, it offers delicious fruit to birds and nectar to butterflies. Live and learn, I guess. This Pyracantha was chosen for me and at the time, I loved the idea. Still love the idea. But next time ... and you know there will be a next time ... I'll reach for the sumac.

Firethorn

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)
Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

This morning, in the drizzly darkness, I was moping around thinking how blah everything looks. Then this came into view - Pyracantha coccinea (correct me if I'm wrong) or firethorn, in full bloom. This really is a beautiful plant. Unfortunately, it's not native. I've noticed over the four years it's been splayed - or espaliered - against the house along the driveway that it never has birds foraging in its berry clusters in the fall and never has butterflies drinking nectar out of its white blossoms in the spring. It's supposed to provide nesting and shelter sites for birds but ... beats me. Never seen a one. It's one of the many insights we have as gardeners as we go along, learning, watching, reading. Were I to pick a plant to espalier along my driveway now, I'd never choose Pyracantha. Pretty as it is, I'm much more interested in a plant that offers more than just colorful fall berries that nobody wants to eat. So I'd probably go with evergreen sumac, a U.S. native that sounds remarkably like firethorn. Rhus virens, or evergreen sumac, gets about the same size, maybe 10 feet high and wide. It has white blossoms and red fruit. It's great for hedges and screens or up against a wall. But here's the difference: Because it's a native, it offers delicious fruit to birds and nectar to butterflies. Live and learn, I guess. This Pyracantha was chosen for me and at the time, I loved the idea. Still love the idea. But next time ... and you know there will be a next time ... I'll reach for the sumac.

About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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