Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Friday, March 23, 2012
The first place I ever lived was in a little studio unit behind the apartment that my grandmother managed in Santa Monica, California. In the front yard, separating the main building from the neighbors, there was a large hedge covered with bright red berries. When I was a very small child, I remember my mom or maybe my grandmother telling me not to eat the pyrocanthus berries because they were poisonous. (It occurs to me wonder here why you would have an enormous hedge of poisonous berries in your front yard, but never mind.) From them or from somewhere I also learned that the fruit made the birds drunk. I doubt they were educating me on drunkenness at this young age, but in my mind it is all part of the same lesson.
Now I wasn't even old enough to read at this point, so I don't know how I got the spelling so firmly in my mind as pyrocanthus. Like eucalyptus or who knows what all else, it had a basically Latin sound so I probably filled in the blanks.
A couple of days ago I was self-editing something I'd written and came across a passage where a grown man was telling someone else that the pyrocanthus is poisonous. I had scrawled in the margin "True?" And so, as I came across this question, I decided I better find out.
First, very surprised to learn that it wasn't called pyrocanthus at all, but simply pyracantha. I don't know why the adults in my life seemed to always refer to them in the plural, but when I was hearing pyrocanthus, they were saying pyrocanthas. This is, of course, a pretty minor distinction, but it was odd having reached the over the hill crowd to know that I have been mistaken in this for pretty much my entire life.
The true shocker, though, is that pyracanthas aren't poisonous. (A small caveat follows, so don't go stuffing your mouth with them until we get there.) In the way that we do want to cling to misinformation even as it falls in tatters all around us, I thought, well, surely there is some variation of opinion on this matter. No. There is no variation of opinion--well, not of informed opinion. The fruit is bitter but it makes a great jelly and as you will see a nice sauce. The pyracantha berry is not a berry at all, but a pome, and as such, related to the apple.
The birds do get drunk on them, though. Well, on the half-rotted, fermented fruit. As anybody would.
I thought I would include some video on birds getting drunk on pyracantha. I did find a video of a drunk bird, but like videos of drunk humans and maybe even more so, it isn't particularly funny, but a bit sad.
Instead, though, I'll regale you with a couple of cool videos from EatTheWeeds.com. Here is where the caveat comes in. Although the fruit is indeed edible, the seeds, like apple seeds are not. The chemical reaction with your body creates a teeny tiny amount of cyanide. Uh, yeah. A few seeds won't harm you, but you can imagine why parents might tell children, and I was far from the only one, to leave these things alone.