Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Originally from China, Orange Firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia) is a large, upright or arching shrub growing to 5 m tall, covered with rigid spines, oblong leaves to 5–7 cm long, cluster of small white flowers and many small orange fruits.
  • Its distribution is scattered, occurring mainly near urbanised areas where it invades grassland, woodland, sclerophyll forests, river banks and pine plantations.
  • It forms dense thickets that can displace native species and alter community composition.
  • It is known to alter seed bank composition and impede the regeneration of native overstorey species.
  • The sharp thorns can cause injury to humans and other animals.
  • Can be controlled by physical removal and herbicides.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Orange Firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia) is an evergreen large upright or arching spreading thorny shrub or small tree. It is usually 2–4 m tall but occasionally grows up to 5 m. The roots are mostly shallow but have a woody taproot, thickened at the top. The older, larger stems develop rigid spines. Twigs & thorns densely to sparsely tomentose (with a dense covering of short, woolly hairs), later glabrescent, (but as they age they loose these hairs), becoming grey pruinose (covered with a powdery or waxy material). Thorns that bear leaves are 1–6 cm long sometimes up to 8 cm long. Thorns not bearing leaves are much shorter 0.7–1.5 cm long. The leaves are narrowly oblong to oblanceolate (lance-shaped with the widest point towards the tip) in shape, 1.5–5 cm long sometimes to 7 cm long, and 0.4–1.2 cm wide. The leaf blades have smooth edges (entire margins) and are revolute (with edges are somewhat curved under), the leaf-tips are obtuse (blunt) and apiculate (with a small point at the tip), and cunnete (with a wedge shaped base). The upper surfaces are deep dark green, initially slightly hairy but become smooth with age with impressed veins. Lower leaf surfaces are always densely covered with short woolly hairs white to grey in appearance. 

The flowers form clusters (corymbs) with up to 25 flowers, clusters 2–4 cm in diameter, which are attached to the stems on branching densely hairy stalks 1–2 mm long. The individual flowers are white and approximately 2.5 mm in diameter surrounded by 5 calyx triangular lobes, each 1–2 mm long and densely white woolly. The rounded petals are 3–4 mm long, about 20 stamens each with dull orange anthers. The female filaments are 2 mm long, glabrous, with 5 carpels, style terminal, ovules 2.

The fruit (pomes) are yellow-orange, deep orange, or orange-red in colour, rounded and flattened at each end (depressed-globose), 4–6 mm in diameter, and can be downy when young (Harden & Rodd 1990; Rosatti 1993; Muyt 2001; Gu & Spongberg 2003; Navie 2004). The green sepals are persistent (do not fall). The fruits produce 5 pyrenes (seeds) about 3 mm long with inner faces flattened, outer rounded.

For further information and assistance with identification of Orange Firethorn contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Orange Firethorn invades grassland, grassy woodland, dry and damp sclerophyll forests, woodlands, river banks and pine plantations, mostly in temperate regions, but also in some sub-tropical regions (Blood 2001; Navie 2004). It tolerates a wide range of conditions including frost, drought, most soil types, deep shade and open habitats (Blood 2001).

Are there similar species?

Orange Firethorn can be distinguished from other closely related weedy Pyracantha species (P. coccinea, P. crenatoserrata [as P. fortuneana], P. rogersiana, and P. crenulata) by its densely hairy or woolly leaf stalks and lower leaf surfaces. The lower leaf surfaces of other Pyracantha species occurring in Australia are generally hairless or sparsely hairy (Blood 2001). Orange firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia) can also be distinguished by the following differences:

Orange Firethorn (Pyracantha angustifolia) has relatively narrow leaves (5–13 mm wide) with entire margins. These leaves have rounded tips and undersides that are densely covered with white hairs (i.e. tomentose). Its mature fruit are yellow to deep orange in colour and are usually covered in white hairs (i.e. pubescent).

Scarlet Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) has relatively broad leaves (10–20 mm wide) with finely toothed (i.e. crenulate) margins. These leaves have pointed tips and undersides that are hairless (i.e. glabrous) or slightly hairy (i.e. puberulent). Its mature fruit are bright red or scarlet in colour and are usually hairless (i.e. glabrous).

Broad-leaf Firethorn (Pyracantha crenatoserrata) has relatively broad leaves (10–20 mm wide) with almost entire or slightly toothed (i.e. crenulate) margins. These leaves have rounded tips and undersides that are hairless (i.e. glabrous). Its mature fruit are bright red in colour and are usually hairless (i.e. glabrous).

Nepalese Firethorn (Pyracantha crenulata) has relatively narrow leaves (6–10 mm wide) with sharply toothed (i.e. serrate) margins. These leaves have pointed tips and undersides that are hairless (i.e. glabrous). Its fruit are bright red or dark red in colour and are usually hairless (i.e. glabrous).

Roger's Firethorn (Pyracantha rogersiana) has relatively narrow leaves (5–10 mm wide) with bluntly toothed (i.e. crenate) margins. These leaves have rounded tips and undersides that are hairless (i.e. glabrous). Its fruit are yellow to reddish-orange in colour and are usually hairless (i.e. glabrous).

Firethorns (Pyracantha species) can also be confused with the Cotoneasters (Cotoneaster species) and Hawthorns (Crataegus species). Cotoneasters can be distinguished from Firethorns by the lack of spines on their stems, and Hawthorns can be distinguished by their deeply lobed leaves (Navie 2004).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Orange Firethorn is mainly a weed a native ecosystems that forms dense thickets shading out native species and restricting movement of humans and animals. 

Agriculture: Does not invade crops or pastures but is a potential host for bacterial fire blight, a serious pest of apples and pears.

Native ecosystems: Orange Firethorn can form dense thickets that can displace native species and significantly alter the composition of bushland areas by shading out shrub species and other low growing plants. It may also impact on seed bank composition and subsequent regeneration of original vegetation after its removal. It can also impede the growth and regeneration of overstorey species (Muyt 2001; Auckland Regional Council 2008; Giantomasi et al. 2008). In central Argentina, Orange Firethorn can alter understorey microclimates in such a way that they encourage the growth of exotic overstorey tree species rather than native ones (Tecco et al. 2006).

Human impacts: The sharp thorns of Orange Firethorn can cause injury to humans and other animals (Muyt 2001).

How does it spread?

Orange Firethorn reproduces via seeds that are commonly dispersed by birds that eat the fruit. The seeds can also be spread by flowing water, other animals (e.g. foxes or other small mammals), or by dumped garden waste (Navie 2004).

What is its history in Australia?

Orange Firethorn was introduced into Australia as an ornamental plant (Muyt 2001). It was recorded as a garden escape on the Central Coast of New South Wales in 1948 (National Herbarium of New South Wales 2008).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Smaller plants of Orange Firethorn can be hand pulled or dug out, and the area mulched to prevent re-germination. Large areas should be considered for control to prevent reseeding by birds, and bare areas should be replanted with dense ground cover to minimise seedling growth (Auckland Regional Council 2008). Grazing in degraded paddocks and other vegetation provides some level of control but is limited. Burning will not kill plants as they normally resprout. 

Chemical control: A range of herbicides and application methods are used for Firethorn species. Larger plants can be treated with (chemical) drill and fill or cut and swab methods, which are best applied in spring or summer before the fruit develop. Plants less than 2 m tall can be sprayed with selective or non-selective herbicides (Muyt 2001).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Orange Firethorn flowers during spring and early summer. Thousands of fruit are produced in autumn, and fruiting tends to be more abundant on plants growing in fertile, moist and well drained soils (Muyt 2001). The highly fertile seeds require a cold period to overcome dormancy. Seeds typically germinate in spring, and substantial root growth occurs before above ground vegetation is produced. Initial seedling growth is slow, but more rapid after the plant has established. In the first year, stems are erect with masses of short horizontal branchlets ending in spines. Flowering occurs in the second and subsequent years of the plants life (Blood 2001), which can be up to 50 years (Muyt 2001).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Orange Firethorn is widely cultivated and most infested areas are near rural towns or urban centres, otherwise its distribution is scattered (Muyt 2001). It is widely distributed in south-eastern Australia, and is common in sub-coastal areas of New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. It is recorded from south-eastern Queensland and south-eastern South Australia (Navie 2004).

Where does it originate?

Orange Firethorn is native to south-western China (Guizhou, Hubei, Sichuan, Xizang, Yunnan, Zhejiang provinces), where it grows in thickets on slopes and roadsides (Gu & Spongberg 2003). 

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Pyracantha angustifolia

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

Cotoneaster angustifolia (Franch.) C.K.Schneid

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Firethorn, Narrowleaf Firethorn, Narrow-leaf Firethorn, Orange Pyracantha, Orangethorn, Yellow Firethorn, Yellow Pyracantha,

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