This is one of those plants that I see everywhere, but I never had a name for it. The red berries and green leaves are striking at Christmastime – similar to holly, but less poky.
When I was in the SF Botanical Garden, I came across one of these. There wasn’t a sign that I could see identifying the tree, but thanks to plant.id, I determined it was a Cotoneaster, probably Cotoneaster coriaceus.
The name is pronounced kah-TONE-ee-aster, rather than cotton-easter. I know I’ve heard of this plant before, because the distinctive, non-intuitive pronunciation stuck in my mind. But for some reason I didn’t but two and two together – the image of the plant with its name – until now! I can now put a plant to a name and a name to a plant!
There are several different species of Cotoneaster. Some grow in a creeping habit, low to the ground, almost like ground cover. Others are shrub-like or (like the one above) grow like small trees. They can be evergreen or deciduous, and have distinctive, usually red, berries. Depending on the exact species, they can be hardy to zone 4.
The particular variety I saw in SF Botanical Garden, Cotoneaster coriaceus, or “red clusterberry,” is evergreen with red berries. The word coriaceus means “leathery,” which, I’m guessing, refers to the leaves. I believe it is also known as Cotoneaster lacteus, or “milkflower cotoneaster” due to the milky white color of the underside of the leaves.
Cotoneasters are the in the Roseacea family, along with apples and roses. Unlike apples and rosehips, however, the berries of cotoneaster are not edible (at least, not to humans – birds can eat them with no ill-effects). Do not be fooled by the variety Cranberry Cotoneaster – it is still not edible! But they are pretty to look at a naturally festive at this time of year. Happy First Foliage Friday of December!
P.S. I found out last night that I passed my boards!! So excited and relieved!