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Plants of the Western Slope October 28, 2015

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Photo by Evelyn Horn Pyracantha

Autumn

When we came to the Delta region, Allen and I wondered what the Grand Mesa might look like without the golden aspen leaves. During the past few days, I've watched the patches of aspen gold fade into aspen gray.

The pasture across the road is tawny, leaning into gray. The horses graze more quickly: I'm sure that the drying grass isn't as tasty as it was a couple of weeks ago. Our Mahonia shrub in the driveway was heavy with lovely yellow flowers this spring and now it's laden with red berries. The trumpet vine has stopped blooming, and I noticed this morning that some of the leaves are edged with yellow. The hummingbirds have all gone south.

The Pyracantha shrub is the only non-native plant in our yard. It was a small plant at first, but now it's easily five feet tall. It's no longer a single plant but has spread into a six-foot complex of sprawling growth. I enjoy watching it in spring with its clusters of half-inch white blossoms that are regularly visited by bees and hummingbirds. But now in autumn it is my favorite time: It's covered with bright orange fruit. Spectacular! One of its common names is "firethorn."

It's seen in many yards around Delta and Cedaredge. Since it's thorny, it's often planted close to windows -- it's tough to climb in the window! My dictionary of cultivated plants indicates that it originated in southeast Europe and Asia with six species. As a member of the rose family, it's related to cotoneaster and hawthorn. My cultivated plant dictionary also gives numerous names and a host of alternate names with no botanical standing as is often the case with common names. It is propagated by seed, cuttings and grafting.

On reading the dictionary descriptions, I think that my plant is properly Pyracanatha coccinea meaning firethorn. Coccinea refers to the orange-red berries. As I gaze at the berries this sunny autumn day, I recall how vivid they looked against the first snow and how they cheered me even when they lost their luster in late winter. I'm glad that we planted this non-native shrub!

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