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If you live in Europe or Southeast Asia, you might have heard about the Pyracantha sp., also known as the firethorn plants.


Pyracantha is a small plant genus related to the rose family, Rosaceae. The same family also houses apples, plums, cherries, almonds, and of course, roses.


The genus includes sixteen species of thorny, evergreen shrubs that yield berries!


Pyracantha plants produce huge clusters of orange, red, or yellow berries, enticing birds, mammals, and even humans to eat them. People have a natural thought that they can eat these gorgeous little fruits.


But are they actually edible? Today, we are going to find that out.


Moreover, Pyracantha species are famed for being poisonous, but is that really the truth?


Is the Pyracantha poisonous?

Let’s dive into it and discover the facts!

Orange berries on a Pyracantha plant—Image by C Schneider.

Are Pyracantha Berries Edible?

Although the Pyracantha berries contain HCN, it is only present in minute amounts.


Thus, eating a few raw berries won’t be fatal, but it can cause mild stomach ailments like nausea and vomiting.


Fun Fact: The fruits of Pyracantha sp. are actually pomes, not berries — apples and pears are well-known pomes. The seeds of these fruits are often found to contain cyanogenic glycosides.


Moreover, the proanthocyanidins present in the Pyracantha berries have an inhibitory effect on α-glucosidase and prevent the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into glucose.


To put it simply, carbohydrates will remain in the intestine. That can disturb the gastrointestinal tract, causing flatulence and diarrhea.


With that said, let’s now see how these berries can affect different mammals!

Red berries of Pyracantha coccinea tree growing in a garden—Image by Sophie Dale.
Red berries of Pyracantha coccinea tree growing in a garden—Image by Sophie Dale.


Are Pyracantha Berries Poisonous? | A Brief Look.

As you already know, Pyracantha berries contain toxic hydrogen cyanide, but can it cause poisoning in different mammals?


Let’s see!

Are Pyracantha Berries Poisonous to Birds?

Pyracantha berries are not really poisonous to birds.


In fact, the firethorn berries are a feast for them. The berries usually ripen in late summer or early fall as they turn red.


That is the time when birds invade and steal them! That is also the ideal time to harvest.


However, studies show birds can get intoxicated if they eat overly ripened berries (containing alcohol).


Birds enjoy the delicious ripe fruits, and are also a means of their dispersal.


However, eating a hefty number of Pyracantha berries can cause neurotoxicity in birds.


Birds have also died of respiratory failure and cyanide poisoning due to Pyracantha seeds choking their airways.


So, consuming bulky feed is going to be a problem.


Are Pyracantha Berries Toxic to Dogs?

Pyracantha berries are considered non-toxic to dogs, but consuming a large amount of them can cause serious health problems.


Eating them can result in vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea.


Mild symptoms reflect the consumption of lesser amounts while eating too many berries at once can be fatal.


If you find your dog devouring these berries or showing related symptoms of toxicity, it is better to consult a certified veterinarian or a veterinary toxicologist.


Are Pyracantha Berries Poisonous to Cats?

Like dogs, cats also show mild stomach ailments after consuming some Pyracantha berries.


If your cat suddenly faints, shows signs of excessive irritation (like redness or blistering of mouth), or has repeated vomiting and diarrhea symptoms, contact a vet immediately.


Are Pyracantha Berries Poisonous to Chickens?

You might also be concerned about your chickens.


Well, chickens are also birds. But unlike other birds that typically feed on Pyracantha berries and defecate the seeds undigested, chickens can easily crush them down in their gizzards, increasing the potential exposure to cyanide compounds.


Is the Pyracantha poisonous, you say? Deliberately feeding your chickens with these berries is definitely not a clever idea!


These creatures typically do not eat something that seems poisonous to them.


Are Pyracantha Berries Poisonous to Humans?

Whether it is an unintentional consumption by a toddler or a curiosity to try the fresh and vibrant fruit, eating a few raw Pyracantha berries hasn’t been reported to result in severe toxicity in humans.


Seeds are the main trouble for humans, and ingesting a large number of berries at once by a child can result in a choking hazard.


The main risk is when you ingest a large sum of raw Pyracantha berries. It can result in GI irritation, ultimately leading to nausea and vomiting.


I don’t know why someone would do that — except for self-harm, as the fruit just tastes awful.


The presence of hydrogen cyanide renders the fruit bitter!


Cooking neutralizes the cyanide, and the seeds can be separated using a sieve or a strainer.

So, you can use the pulp to make sweet fruit spread, jelly, or jam!


Is the Pyracantha Poisonous/Toxic?

To give you a straight answer, it is not as poisonous as people think it is.


Let me make it a bit clearer…


In theory, thorns and berries are two parts of the plant that we can consider poisonous.


Most Pyracantha species produce a toxic chemical compound named Hydrogen cyanide (HCN). It is extremely poisonous, and high exposure to it (cyanide poisoning) can be fatal.


However, in Pyracantha, just a small amount of it is present in fruits, seeds, and leaves.


Moreover, the root microbes of firethorn plants produce a toxic chemical known as maytansine.


Therefore, you must also be careful while working with the roots of this plant.


Well, that was about the chemical toxicity, but it does not clarify if the plant is safe to eat.


I have heard people questioning, “Is Pyracantha edible?” I guess they are asking about the berries!


So, let’s discuss that.


Is Pyracantha Edible?

Well, if we talk about foliage, it is definitely not edible.


Keep your pets and children away from the plant before the fruit is set. Otherwise, they can hurt themselves.


Thorns on this plant can easily puncture human skin, and — as HCN is a skin irritant — the skin around the wound can become red, swollen, itchy, and painful.


It can be uncomfortable but not dangerous.


These thorns can also contain infectious bacteria. Thus, in case of infection, please consult a healthcare professional.


Due to their spiky nature and adequate sizes, people often use Pyracantha plants instead of fences.

You can also grow them under windows to keep intruders away!


Pyracantha bush during frost—Image by Jacqueline Macou.

Is the Pyracantha poisonous, you asked? I hope you got the answer.


To conclude the article, I must say that although consuming a small amount of Pyracantha berries is not considered toxic, it is better to stay away!


Moreover, making use of safety equipment like gloves while working with the plant would keep you safe from unwanted cuts.


Also, if you would like to know more about pruning or training Pyracantha, check out this article here.

I hope you liked this week’s article. If so, do share it with your friends.


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