On the Firethorn and the Mountain Ash


Although it is far from being classified as a specimen plant in the garden of the gay recluse, the firethorn (Pyrachantha‘Mohave’) is valued not only for the depth of its evergreen leaves and the length of its ferocious needles, but for the perfect orange tone of its berries, which provide such welcome interest to the sometimes dreary landscape we find outside as summer gives way to fall. We are reminded of what the great Huysmans wrote 150 years ago about a certain orange tone being the most obsessive and neurotic of any color; this would certainly not be the more garish flavor of orange we associate with construction sites or corporate logos, but a version containing a deeper reddish tone found — artificial though it may appear! — only in nature.

Today as we contemplated the clusters of tiny fruit, illuminated by the eastern sun, we remembered how as a child we used to play under a tree — in our memories, at least, the bark was silver and peeling, like a birch — which like the firethorn possessed similar berries that we used to collect in a bucket and give to our mother, knowing that orange was her favorite color. One day, however, we came home from school and were dismayed to find the tree gone — we now suspect it was a mountain ash (sorbus aucuporia) — in its place only a stump, some flecks of sawdust and a few scattered berries in the lawn. We gathered up the last of these and presented them to our mother who, with tears in her eyes, explained that the tree had been diseased — you could see the vein of rot even in the stump — and had to be cut down; only later would I understand her reluctance to ever replace it with a new one.


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