Tag Archives: birds

Pyracantha in red, orange or yellow can look quite amazing

First published by Rattan Direct on 24 August 2016.

Pyracantha is a shrub which produces bright red, orange or yellow berries in the autumn. It can look quite amazing.

Pyracantha comes from two Greek words: pyr – fire and akanthos – thorn. In English it’s sometimes known as … firethorn. The nasty thorns make it a surefire (!) way of distinguishing it from cotoneaster, a similar berrying shrub.

Fire – one of the four elements

Fire is one of the four elements along with earth, air and water. At a time of thrashing rain and high winds (yes, August but there you are), I’m focusing on keeping warm and dry. And, slightly regretfully, thinking ahead to autumn. No need to get my mind around winter yet.

I’m thinking about two things: getting the chimney swept and pruning the pyracantha.

The excellent attributes of pyracantha

If you’re thinking of giving house room to firethorn, it does have some excellent attributes. It can be grown trained against a wall, as a freestanding shrub or as ground cover. It can grow up to 6m/20ft tall.

Pyracantha grown as a tree at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England.
Pyracantha grown as a tree at Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England.
© Acabashi and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

Its dense thorny structure and evergreen leaves make it good as a ‘security’ hedge and good for roosting or nesting birds. Its flowers in late spring and early summer are creamy white, providing nectar for bees at a point when there isn’t much around. Its masses of wonderful berries develop from late summer, mature in early autumn, and are loved by birds, especially blackbirds.

Frosted pyracantha near Barton-Upon-Humber, North Lincolnshire. The blackbirds have already eaten about half the berries.
Frosted pyracantha near Barton-upon-Humber, North Lincolnshire. The blackbirds have already eaten about half the berries.
© David Wright and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Prune it

To keep pyracantha under control and producing good looking flowers and berries, it needs to be pruned. After flowering, in late summer, is the best time for wall-trained shrubs.

Three important points.

  1. Wear a long-sleeved jacket and strong, perhaps gauntlet, gloves. The thorns are vicious.
  2. Pyracantha flowers (and berries) mostly on shoots produced the previous year. These shoots will look more ‘woody’ than this year’s growth. If you prune out these ‘woody’ shoots you won’t have any flowers or berries!
  3. If you snip off flowers … then there won’t be any berries later.

Here’s an outline of what to do and the Royal Horticultural Society will give you fuller advice.

With free-standing shrubs, just remove unwanted, damaged or diseased shoots.

With wall-trained pyracantha, the idea is to prune in order to make the berries more visible and to keep the plants in shape. In late summer, shorten all side shoots coming from the main framework branches to just short of the clusters of berries (usually about two to three leaves from the base of the side shoot).

Red and orange pyracantha on a white-painted wall near Stockbridge, Hampshire.
Red and orange pyracantha on a white-painted wall near Stockbridge, Hampshire.
© Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

With pyracantha hedges, trim them twice or three times between spring and the end of summer, retaining as many berries as possible.

Pyracantha hedge at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England.
Pyracantha hedge at Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England.
© Acabashi and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

Can I grow it and should I grow it?

Pyracantha will grow almost everywhere except in waterlogged conditions. In shady and north-facing places, though,  fewer berries tend to be produced. It does best in full sun and/or against hot walls.

Problems? Helen Yemm has some answers.

Pyracantha is certainly worth considering. For me, the help it gives to wildlife plus the wonderful boost of colour in autumn and winter would probably swing it.

Pyracantha in fruit, Cloisters, Salisbury Cathedral
Pyracantha in fruit, Cloisters, Salisbury Cathedral
© nick macneill and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.


A training gallop

A small piece of work connected with the London Borough of Brent led me to think about some other Brents: specifically, the river, the geese, the oil field, and the price of crude. Any connections or none? I decided to take myself out for a little research training gallop.

I’ve found two quite separate groups of Brents. One involves the goddess Brigantia, the river and the borough. The other group brings together the geese, the oil field and a benchmark price for crude oil. It’s been strange to find a connection between the two groups, between the goddess Brigantia and the geese. It’s just a coincidence, probably.

The borough, the river and the goddess Brigantia

Brent is a borough in the north-west of London. It’s been in existence since 1964 and is in outer London. Kilburn, Wembley, Harlesden are three well-known areas. [1]

The borough is named after the River Brent, a tributary of the River Thames. The river is almost 18 miles long and joins the Thames at Brentford. [2]

The earliest record of Brentford (and of the river) is in a letter of 705 AD when the Bishop of London suggested meeting at Breġuntford. The date suggests that this placename may be related to the Celtic *brigant– meaning ‘high’ or ‘elevated’, perhaps linked to the goddess Brigantia. [3]

The geese and the oilfield

The Brent Goose, Branta bernicla (Linnaeus 1758), is a small, dark goose, about the same size as a mallard. The head is black and the neck and back are grey-brown. The belly is either a pale or dark belly, depending on the sub-species. Adults have a small white neck patch. [4]

Here, the word ‘brent’ is derived from the Norse word ‘brendr’, meaning burnt. The geese have this name because of their charcoal colour. [5]

Brent geese nest on boggy Arctic tundra where they have a few months of good weather to raise a brood before the weather turns bad. They migrate south from mid-September and those which over-winter in Britain and Ireland arrive in large flocks in early October. They spend the winter feeding on eelgrass in estuaries and on crops in nearby fields. In April they fly north to the Arctic once again.

Listen to Brent geese here (scroll down a bit).

The Brent oil and gas field lies in the North Sea between Shetland and Norway and is named after the Brent goose. The field is operated by Shell UK Ltd which initially named all of its UK oil fields after seabirds, alphabetically by discovery – Auk, Brent, Cormorant, Dunlin, Eider, Fulmar and so on. The initials of the Brent field were then used in naming the parts of the Middle Jurassic geological period which make up the oilfield. These are the Broom, Rannoch, Etive, Ness and Tarbert formations, each named after a Scottish loch. Sensible from an oil-and-gas perspective perhaps but a little surprising for someone on a morning outing. [6]

The Brent oil field ended production at the end of February 2011, and is being decommissioned over the next 25 years. [7]

And the price of Brent Crude

We hear the term ‘Brent Crude’ in the financial part of the news. ‘And the price of Brent Crude is …’  So what is it and why is it important?

Brent Crude is a trading classification of sweet, light crude oil. [8] This type of oil was originally produced from the Brent oilfield in the North Sea and now comprises Brent Blend, Forties Blend, Oseberg and Ekofisk crudes. The classification is also known as the BFOE Quotation. It’s a benchmark crude which provides a reference price for buying and selling. Around two-thirds of the world’s oil is priced relative to it. [9]

Unexpected romance


Photo credit: BrigitteCelt by Paul Barlow. Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BrigitteCelt.jpg#/media/File:BrigitteCelt.jpg

This is a first century AD bronze statuette of a female goddess, possibly Brigantia. The statuette is in the Museum of Brittany at Rennes (F) where she is known as Brigitte. Remarkably, from my point of view for this post, she is wearing a helmet surmounted by a goose or swan with outstretched head and wings. The helmet also has an extremely long crest.

In etymology as in the rest of life, I do know that all may not be what it seems at first glance. There is no link between Brigantia and the Brent goose. All that glisters is not gold.

I rather like, though, how the headgear of a goddess who might possibly be Brigantia but perhaps is not, can unexpectedly draw together the findings of this small research exercise. Unexpected romance.

Photo credits

The Brent Geese at the top of the page are Ringgås in Lista, Norway photographed by Marton Berntsen. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.


[1] https://www.brent.gov.uk/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Brent

Canham, Roy and Glanville G H (1978). A London Museum Archaeological Report: 2000 years of Brentford. Ch 2, p3. HMSO. ISBN 978-0-11-290176-1. In https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Brent

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantia_%28goddess%29

[4] http://www.allaboutmigration.com/about-brent-geese/

[5] http://www.healthylifeessex.co.uk/pages/outdoor-life/BrentGoose.html

Old Norse – brendr http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/go.php?D1=17&H1=117&T1=brenna

Icelandic – brennt http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/go.php?D1=28&H1=128&T1=brenna

Nynorsk – brent https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/brenna

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brent_oilfield

[7] http://royaldutchshellplc.com/2012/02/21/brent-oilfield-to-be-decommissioned/


[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brent_Crude

[9] https://www.theice.com/brent-crude