Monday, November 19, 2012

An orange crabapple bush?

Species name: Pyracantha angustifolia

Common name: Narrowleaf firethorn

Location: Ontario

This species of firethorn (there are recognized 7 species in the genus and many varieties) is native to China, but popular throughout Europe and North America as an ornamental plant. It can tolerate the cold just enough where I am in Ontario, but not much further north since it doesn't do well in harsh winter climates. It can tolerate quite hot and arid areas, so does well in more tropical climates. It has become so invasive in areas of Hawaii that it threatens to completely eliminate native diversity. The only plant that manages to out-compete firethorns for resources in Canada is Madagascar periwinkle (which you can read all about HERE); not even English ivy can match its vigor (which you can read all about HERE).

If you look at the berries of the firethorn plant, you might think you've seen them somewhere before but a different colour. You would be correct! Like the crabapple (read all about it HERE), the firethorn is also in the rose family and has very similar, but smaller, fruit. They have that characteristic star-shape at the bottom of the fruit, which is also visible in apple fruits (also in the rose family!). This is characteristic of the type of fruit called a pome, and mimics the same star-shape that you see when you cut an apple in half cross-wise. And who hasn't cut an apple in half to reveal the star for apple-stamp painting when they were in daycare?! If you've never had the chance to do this, you're seriously missing out. And while you're at it, cut a potato in half and make a shape, and use that as a stamp, too. I miss these kitchen crafts...

Firethorn bushes are very important to wildlife in their native range, but not the primary food source of any animal in North America. The fruits are very bitter, so even birds would rather find something else to eat. They do obviously eat them, though, since they are the main vector of dispersal of the seeds. In order for a plant to become invasive, it must be reproducing successfully! Unlike its relative the scarlet firethorn, the fruit should never be consumed by humans (even after cooking) because they contain high levels of hydrogen cyannide.