An evergreen shrub 15 to 20 ft high, of erect habit, frequently destitute of spines; young shoots at first clothed with down but becoming glabrous and bright olive-brown by autumn. Leaves oblong, oval, or inclined to obovate, tapered either equally towards both ends or (more usually) abruptly tapered to a point; sometimes rounded at the apex, sometimes entire, sometimes finely toothed except towards the stalk, 1 to 3 in. long, 1⁄2 to 11⁄3 in. wide, dark glossy green above, pale and dull beneath, glabrous except when quite young; stalk 1⁄8 to 1⁄3 in. long. Flowers 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. wide, white, produced in May or early June in corymbs 11⁄2 to 2 in. wide which terminate short, leafy twigs that spring from the previous season’s growths. Fruits rather flattened-globose, 3⁄16 to 1⁄4 in. wide, scarlet, topped by the shrivelled calyx-lobes, and persisting until March. Bot. Mag., t. 9099 (flowering branch).
Native of Central China (Kweichow, S.E. Szechwan, W. Hunan, and W. Hupeh); introduced by Wilson in 1907. It was at first grown as P. crenulata, but in 1916 it was separated from that species by A. B. Jackson and named P. gibbsii, after the Hon. Vicary Gibbs, in whose garden at Aldenham there was a magnificent pyramidal specimen 20 ft high. But ten years later it was found that Hance had described the species in 1877, as Sportella atalantioides, from a specimen collected by the American missionary Nevin, amplifying the description in 1880 from a specimen collected by General Mesny.
This fine pyracanth is the strongest grower in the genus. Although the fruits are smaller than those of P. coccinea, they ripen later and remain for several months longer on the bushes. In all really essential botanical characters it does not differ much from the Himalayan P. crenulata, but is very distinct as a garden shrub. It is perfectly hardy, its leaves and flowers are larger, its growth much stronger, and it is often quite spineless. By training up a leading shoot and gradually removing the lower branches it can be made into a small tree, as was done at Aldenham.
P. atalantioides received the Award of Garden Merit in 1922. This was given to the normal red-fruited form. Yellow-fruited plants have also been raised, and an Award of Merit was given to one of these when shown from Wisley in 1936 (f. aurea Hort.).
P. ‘Watereri’. – A vigorous, dense shrub up to 8 ft high and as much across. Young stems densely hairy. Leaves mostly 3⁄4 to 11⁄4 in. long, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. wide (but occasionally up to 21⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 in. wide), elliptic to elliptic-lanceolate, acute or subacute at the apex, faintly crenate in the upper third, sparsely hairy beneath on the midrib and main veins. A probable hybrid between P. atalantioides and P. rogersiana, raised by Messrs Waterer, Son, and Crisp. A.M. 1955. It is excellent as an open-ground specimen or even as a hedging plant.