Firethorn

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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.

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