Thursday, 21 November 2013


Red and yellow bushes of Firethorn
beside the Bell Brook, Byfield.
21 November, 2013
Firethorn is a particularly well-named shrub. I have a vigorous specimen in my back garden and I always don gloves when pruning time comes around. The plant usually grown is Pyracantha coccinea, a native of southern Europe where I have found it from time to time on stony hillsides. Though not native to Britain it is well naturalised in many places, probably through bird-sown seed. 

Around Byfield it is a feature of many gardens, with both yellow and, more commonly,  red-fruited specimens planted. The plants are usually clipped but, when allowed to assume their natural form, they are rather pendulous. Both yellow and red tumble down beside the Bell Brook in this graceful manner.

The fruits are still rather firm as I write but as they soften they will be eagerly sought after by birds and the lucky gardener may receive visits by Waxwings in midwinter. The "berries" may look rather like those of Holly but the plants are unrelated. Firethorn is a member of the Rose family and thus related to Rowans and Cotoneasters, whose fruit not only look similar but are structurally near-identical. In a close-up photograph the fruit look almost like apples, to which, again, they are related.
Fruit of Pyracantha coccinea.
Byfield, 21 November, 2013

The plants are of interest too to the entomologist. Not only are the flowers attractive to bees but a micro-moth, the Firethorn Leaf Miner, makes use of the leaves. It seems to have been unknown in Britain before 1989 but is now very widespread; here in Byfield it affect many specimens. 

It forms an elongated blister-like mine down the midrib of the leaf, more clearly seen in this close-up, where the frass (droppings) show up as amber specks. The leaves may be a little disfigured but the plants seems to be otherwise unaffected.

Leaf mine caused by the Firethorn Leaf Miner Moth
Phyllonorycter leucographella.
Byfield, 21 November, 2013

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