Skip to main content

The choice between Pyracantha and Cotoneaster can be tough! Each of these shrubs has its own distinct appeal, and choosing the appropriate one depends on your personal style of gardening.

Whether you choose the Pyracantha or the Cotoneaster, you can be sure that your garden will thrive thanks to some of the beauty and biodiversity these shrubs bring. 

But, before you choose, keep in mind that selecting the appropriate plant is similar to selecting a good companion. Your garden deserves the best, which is why we’re here to assist you in making an informed decision.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into the Pyracantha vs Cotoneaster, revealing the fundamentals so you know what you’re getting yourself into. By the end, you’ll know which one is ideal for your landscape. So, make a cup of tea, get comfy and read on!


firethorn berries on wall

Pyracantha is a lovely shrub that adorns gardens in autumn and winter with its attractive flowers and brilliant red, yellow, or orange berries. It’s a multipurpose plant that stands out with its serrated leaf edges and an abundance of thorns that work well as an evergreen hedge, adding both beauty and security to your outdoor space.

The term “Pyracantha” derives from the Greek words “pyr,” which means “fire,” and “akanthos,” which means “thorn.” Pyracantha is a genus of big, thorny evergreen shrubs of the Rosaceae family, giving rise to the common name “firethorn.”

Origins and History

The crimson firethorn, Formosa firethorn, Roger’s firethorn, Chinese firethorn, and narrow-leaf firethorn are among Pyracantha’s top five favorite species. These shrubs, all members of the Rosaceae family, are native to Eurasia, spanning the eastern Mediterranean central Europe and stretching eastward to China and Taiwan (previously Formosa). Their global journey has made them a unique and intriguing addition to gardens all around the world.


Pyracantha, a member of the Rosaceae family, is botanically related to both apples and roses. These tough shrubs can grow up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) tall. Their leaves are small and oval in form. The seven Pyracantha species produce little white blooms with five petals and a profusion of stamens. These blossoms adorn the shrubs in late spring and early summer, giving way later in the season to the vivid fruit, which comes in colors of red, orange, or yellow and resembles tiny pomes.

Pyracantha can take up a space of around 4 by 4 meters (12 by 12 feet). There are also more compact cultivars, such as Pyracantha Soleil d’Or, which measures 3 by 3 meters (10 by 10 feet) and has orange-yellow fruit. This type is well-known for its toughness and resilience. Pyracantha Golden Charmer, with yellow fruit, is another shorter variant.

Pyracantha Orange Glow is a wonderful alternative for individuals looking for orange-hued cultivars, attaining a height of 3 meters (10 feet) with a spread of 2.4 meters (7.8 feet). It grows upright and is excellent for making hedges. Pyracantha Orange Charmer is of comparable size and has an erect growth style.

If you prefer the flaming charm of red berries, Pyracantha coccinea Red Column is a slim choice that stands roughly 1.8 meters (6.6 feet) tall and is ideal for training against a wall or trellis. There are dwarf versions like Pyracantha Red Cushion, which stands only 1 meter (3.3 feet) tall and 2 meters (6.6 feet) wide, for tiny gardens or at the foot of a wall.

pyracantha vs cotoneaster

Pyracantha trained under a bay window.

Pyracantha Flava is a one-of-a-kind plant with arching growth, small leaves, and an abundance of yellow berries in the autumn. If disease resistance is important, look into the French-bred Saphyr line, which features red, orange, and yellow berries that survive even under harsh environments. These Pyracantha cultivars add color and charm to gardens of all sizes.

The Pros and Cons

There are always two aspects to everything. Talking about plants, there’s a good side, and then there’s a not-so-good side. Let’s have a look at both:


  • Berries Galore: Let’s start with the main attraction – those berries! Pyracantha puts on a colorful show with its yellow, orange, or red fruit. You can choose the color that best suits the mood of your yard, and guess what? All of the options are equally appealing to the birds. It’s like a smorgasbord for your bird buddies all day.
  • Wildlife Attractor: This shrub is known as “firethorn” for good reason. Its red berries and spiky stems are not only visually appealing but also provide a safe habitat for wildlife. Pyracantha attracts birds, making your garden a bustling hub of avian activity.
  • Year-Round Beauty: Pyracantha thrives in all four seasons. In the spring, it blooms with exquisite white petals, then transforms to rich green foliage before crowning itself with a wealth of colorful berries. It provides color and beauty all year long, whether grown as a hedge, a stand-alone shrub, or trained against a wall.
  • Hardiness: These hardy bushes are versatile and resilient. They can withstand a variety of circumstances, including exposure and soil kinds. Pyracantha can grow in a variety of soil conditions, from dry to heavy (as long as they are not waterlogged).


  • Toxicity: Pyracantha, while a horticultural standout, isn’t a favorite at the dinner table. It’s advisable to view their berries from afar because eating them might cause minor ailments like vomiting and diarrhea. It is prudent to seek medical guidance if accidental intake happens.
  • Cold Weather Caution: Pyracantha may require particular attention in cold areas. Although it is called evergreen, it can lose its color and leaves by midwinter in colder climates. To keep it in good condition, keep it away from high winter winds.
  • Thorn Alert: The thorns of Pyracantha are a double-edged weapon. While they provide shelter and contribute to its distinct appearance, they can make trimming and handling more difficult. Always use caution when interacting with this thorny bush.
  • Weed Concerns: A variation known as Orange firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia) has earned a reputation as a possible weed in regions of Australia, including Victoria, the ACT, and New South Wales. As a result, certain localities prohibit its importation and growth.


  • Pyracantha is your garden’s best friend if you have a soft place for feathery companions. It attracts birds with its exquisite berries, especially when other food sources are limited.
  • This plant is more than simply a lovely face; it’s a shrub with a long history. People have admired it not just for its remarkable look but also for its thorny branches, which have functioned as an added layer of security.
  • Pyracantha has more to offer than meets the eye, according to an ancient elixir. One intriguing use is making base wine from completely ripened fruit, a long-standing practice.
  • Firethorn fruits have a special role in traditional medicine. They’ve been recognized for their diuretic, cardiac, and tonic characteristics, demonstrating their potential for promoting wellness.
  • Pyracantha is a source of natural antioxidants as well as beauty. It is high in fatty acids, vitamins, phytosterols, phenolic compounds, and anti-radical qualities and can help you maintain your health.

This blazing shrub is a game changer that provides more than meets the eye, creating a colorful and dynamic ecology in your garden. But it does come with some warnings, especially about fruit intake and spiky branches. Understanding its charms as well as its idiosyncrasies will allow you to make the most of this interesting plant.


Cotoneaster is a remarkable genus of flowering plants in the Rosaceae family. They are related to hawthorns (Crataegus), firethorns (Pyracantha), photinias (Photinia), and rowans (Sorbus) in the botanical family tree. Some trees lose their leaves in the autumn, whereas others are evergreen. Their leaves are tidy, smooth-edged, and alternately placed. Their blossoms are exquisite white to pink flowers grouped in clusters that offer a touch of refinement to these sturdy plants. One can say that in the realm of flora, Cotoneaster is a treasure trove of natural beauty and diversity.

cotoneaster with berries

This is a Willow-leaved cotoneaster, this has bigger leaves than the more common cotoneasters.

Origins and History

Cotoneaster glaucophyllus is also known as Bright Bead Cotoneaster and Cotoneaster serotinus. But what really is in a name? Quite a bit, in fact. The name “Cotoneaster” is a combination of “cotoneum,” a Latin nod to quinces, with the suffix “-aster,” which denotes a resemblance. This attractive genus, which includes over 50 species of shrubs and small trees, is native to temperate Eurasia, with deep roots in China and the majestic Himalayas. The Palaearctic region, Europe, and North Africa are also home to these plants.


These shrubs are notable for having two sorts of shoots. Long shoots, ranging in length from 10 to 40 cm (3.9 to 15.7 inches), have a structural role in branch growth. Then, there are short shoots, much smaller at 0.5 to 5 cm (0.20 to 1.97 inches), which bear the flowers. This growth pattern gives Cotoneaster branches a characteristic ‘herringbone’ shape.

When it comes to leaves, Cotoneaster makes no distinction; it has both evergreen and deciduous variants. The leaves are placed alternately and can be as little as 0.5 cm or as long as 15 cm. They have an ovate-to-lanceolate form and are usually smooth-edged.


But the real show begins in late spring to early summer when Cotoneaster branches burst with clusters of tiny pinkish-white blooms. Delicate blossoms adorn the trees, often single but sometimes in groups of up to 100. These blossoms can range from creamy white to different colors of pink, even red. Each bloom contains 10 to 20 stamens and up to five styles.

As the seasons change, the flowers give birth to little pomes ranging in size from 5 to 12 mm (0.20 to 0.47 inches). When ripe, these pomes have a rich color palette that ranges from pink to bright crimson, orange, maroon, or even black. 

The Pros and Cons

Let’s have a look at this plant from both aspects, good and bad:


  • Garden Favorites: Cotoneasters are a favorite option among gardeners due to their beautiful appearance and decorative fruit.


  • Wildlife Attraction: These plants are extremely beneficial to local animals. Some Lepidoptera species, such as the gray dagger and winter moth, feed their larvae on Cotoneaster. Bees and butterflies are drawn to its beautiful blossoms, and the scarlet berries that follow are a winter treat for birds.
  • Low Maintenance: Cotoneasters are low maintenance. They’re simple to grow and require little pruning and watering once established in your garden.
  • Ornamental and Functional: Cotoneaster lacteus, in particular, is an ornamental and functional standout. It’s great for hedges, privacy screens, and erosion management. It attracts wildlife, making your garden not only gorgeous but also environmentally beneficial.


  • Toxicity: Caution is advised because Cotoneaster can be hazardous in high doses, causing respiratory problems, paralysis, and seizures.
  • Disease Susceptibility: While Cotoneasters are generally trouble-free, they are not immune to disease. They are susceptible to the fungal disease fire blight.
  • Invasive Weeds: Many Cotoneaster species have escaped cultivation and become invasive weeds, particularly in regions where they thrive. Several Chinese species have naturalized in northwestern Europe. C. glaucophyllus is designated an invasive weed in Australia and California. Because of its invasive nature, C. simonsii is restricted in New Zealand. 


  • Cotoneaster berries aren’t fussy. They feed a wide range of animals, including birds, bees, and small mammals, contributing to the ecological balance.
  • These shrubs provide a scarlet carpet for nature. Their flowers provide nectar for industrious bees, and their berries provide a feast for songbirds.
  • Some Cotoneaster species have been used in traditional medicine to cure a variety of diseases ranging from digestive problems to skin concerns.
  • The Cotoneaster Medikus genus emerges as a healer, particularly in Asian medicine. It’s been used to treat hemorrhoids, diabetes, and heart problems.
  • Taller Cotoneaster species provide natural privacy screens, protecting your garden from prying eyes and transforming it into a serene sanctuary.

So hopefully after reading this, it will help you decide what to choose when it comes to pyracantha vs cotoneaster.

If your interested about reading more on pyracantha, I’ve written a guide on it here. It goes into the different Genus’s, propogation and more.

Follow us on Social Media