Pyracantha vs. Chamise


By Cassy Aoyagi:  There are dozens of varieties of Pyracantha, which can be shaped and pruned to form a screen or barrier. It is common to see them planted so closely together that they require aggressive pruning to curb the spread of their tiger-like claws (not unlike bougainvillea). They come in all shapes and sizes, but what they all have in common are their thorns, berries and invasiveness.


Pyracantha SP

Native to parts of Europe and Asia, they are accustomed to moister climates than Southern California. That said, Pyracantha has proven itself incredibly adaptable to dry, hot conditions. In fact, their ease of germination makes pyracantha a competitor with native plants that are more likely to host beneficial and native wild life. (In fact, only 6 percent of native birds, insects and wildlife can make a living on non-native plants like Pyracantha.)

Pyracantha is very prone to diseases like fireblight, scale, aphids and other insects. When a diseased, non-native plant is mixed in with a native plant community, it can introduce and spread disease to native habitats that would otherwise be in a natural balance, which supports few pests. A battle against pests takes valuable resources from even indigenous plants, making it more difficult for them to survive and adapt to adverse natural conditions.

In contrast, Adenostoma, commonly known as Chamise, is one of the dominant California Native plants in our local Chaparral community.  It spans from coastal ranges to Sierras to Foothills. It has a light, elegant structure with small, soft needle-like leaves. The cummulative appearance is reminiscent of a Heather. The Chamise is green year round, has a profusion of vibrant, creamy flowers mid to late summer.

Adenostoma or Chamise

A really special low-height variety is ‘prostratum’.  This has a graceful, spilling waterfall appearance and stays about 3′ tall with a 6′ spread, where as the most common variety Adenostema fasciculatum grows to 5′-8′ tall with a spread of 4′ to 6′ wide.

Chamise requires very little water, so is a great plant to place where water is difficult to provide.  It is not challenging to grow and needs little to no pruning and upkeep.  For a plant that hardly needs anything, it looks rather handsome year round.

Although less commonly used in a garden setting, it is an ideal plant for the garden in many ways.  It can be used as a sculptural accent, foundation background plant, wind barrier or screening plant.  Except for high fire zones it is appropriate to use for erosion control purposes. Although it is highly flamable, it serves as a prectorate where it is indigenous to stabilize soils and slopes after fires and since it stump sprouts readily after fires, plays an integral role in recovery of scorched native slopes.

For more guidance on where to plant big dry ones, see our past Wet-to-Dry Exchange articles.