One red is good, but another is not


Published: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 10:50 p.m.
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The coral-red berries of firethorn are popular food for fruit-eating birds such as cardinals, mockingbirds and migrating robins.

Special to The Sun
Anything that brings color to the dead of winter can't be all bad.
Pyracantha coccinea, also called firethorn, is such a plant. However, Ardisia crenata, or coral ardisia is not.
On my daily lunchtime walks through the Kirkwood subdivision in south Gainesville, I get to see a myriad of plants not normally found in newer subdivisions, such as mine.
A fairly large firethorn tree greets me as I enter the shady neighborhood. It's startling, because everything else has either lost its leaves for the season, or been blown down by the hurricanes. There is always a bevy of birds - mostly the fruit-eating cardinals, mockingbirds and robins - darting in and out of the branches laden with the bright coral-red berries. I've seen robins get "drunk" from eating too many of the berries on their migration back North.
Firethorn is a member of the rose family, and its best use is grown along a warm, south-facing wall. It is often used espaliered, which means trained against a flat surface. It itself does not cling and will need to be tied to a support or wires, which is also a good idea to keep it from resting directly on the siding or surface, where moisture would be trapped underneath.
This is also the most effective way to display the berries.
It's also a good way to avoid its nasty thorns which, when break the surface of the skin, produce a burning sensation.
Firethorn can be trained into a shrub or hedge, and is quite effective as a barrier to keep people from trespassing.
The pretty white (but somewhat smelly) flowers and berries are produced on year-old wood, so keep that in mind when pruning. If you need to shape the plant, or keep it in bounds, prune just as the flowers are beginning to fade. The flowers that remain on the plant is where you will get the berries. This is a fast-growing plant, often growing 2 feet a year. It is moderately salt-tolerant.
Firethorn can be messy, though, if there aren't many birds to clean off the berries.
On the other hand, another plant I see dispersed through the wooded neighborhood is the Ardisia crenata, or coral ardisia (sometimes spelled ardesia).
This was evidently a favorite plant for many Gainesville people because you see it growing in many older neighborhoods, including the Duck Pond and Historic Northeast district.
Unfortunately, it has outgrown its welcome and starting to bully native plants out of areas such as Biven's Arm Nature Park and San Felasco Hammock State Preserve.
Ardisia is a short, unbranched multi-stemmed plant that has glossy green leaves and bright red berries hanging below the foliage. It thrives in shady areas, and therefore was a popular plant in shady Gainesville.
Birds also like the fruit. A lot. They can digest the berry, but not the seed, which is deposited wherever birds deposit - which is about anywhere they please. With a 99 percent viability, ardisia seeds can quickly create a monoculture.
If you have these growing, it's recommended you remove them from the landscape to help lessen their disturbance to our natural areas. Pulling off the berries would be one way to allow you to keep the plant, but in my opinion that lessens the original appeal of the plant.
Round 'em up Speaking of invasives, hundreds of volunteers will descend on public nature areas today as part of Gainesville's Great Air Potato Roundup. They will be picking up the tubers and bringing them by the bushels-full to a collection site; they will then be destroyed. This is a good time to pick up the tubers, since the vines are dormant and dying.
A post-roundup celebration will be held around noon at Morningside Nature Center with live music, free food and T-shirts, prize drawings and awards for the biggest and weirdest potatoes and the largest group.
The roundup is part of Invasive Plant Awareness Week, and co-sponsored by the city of Gainesville Nature Operations, G.E.A.R. (Gainesville's Ecosystems At Risk), the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and other co-sponsors.
Last year, more than 1,000 volunteers collected 11 tons of air potatoes and other invasives from 22 natural areas in and around Gainesville.
Marina Blomberg can be reached at 352-332-0080 or neophyte@bellsouth.net.

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