What is Cotoneaster?

Alex Tree

Cotoneaster is a genus of woody plants that belongs to the Rosaceae family. As of 2010, there is some dispute about the exact number of species that fall under this genus, but it is believed to have approximately 70 to 300. The species originally grew in the Asian, North African, and European regions of the world. Most species in this genus are shrubs that grow from 1.6 to 16 feet (0.5 to 5 m), although some are small trees that grow up to 49 feet (15 m). The species in this genus are either evergreen or deciduous.

Cotoneaster attracts butterflies.
Cotoneaster attracts butterflies.

In a majority of the species, the flowers bloom by the end of spring or the beginning of summer. Some of the flowers open wide, while others grow half-shut petals that do not naturally open wider. The colors of these flowers range from white to red. They bear small fruits, which can be red orange or maroon in color. These fruits generally have three seeds and, in rare circumstances, five.

Cotoneaster species have no thorns, and their berry fruits attract birds, bees, and butterflies. Most species grow well in direct sunlight and thrive in hot climates. Although these plants are tough and resistant to difficult conditions like drought and lack of sunlight, they should be protected against severe cold and frost.

A popular species in this genus, Cotoneaster horizontalis, is a small, deciduous flowering shrub. Common names for this species are rock cotoneaster and rockspray due to the fact that it is commonly grown in rock gardens as a rockery plant in gardens, parks, and other public places. Some species of Cotoneaster used in gardens are cultivars or natural hybrids with unknown parentage. The berry-like fruits of these plants are an important food source for birds.

Willowleaf cotoneaster, or Cotoneaster salicifolius, is a flowering evergreen shrub that can vary greatly in height. It can remain as a short shrub or grow tall and willowy, as is usually the case in Asian regions. The leaves are dark green in summer and purplish in winter, and, like other species in the genus, bear bright red berries as fruit.

Another common species, Cotoneaster dammeri, is an aggressive evergreen shrub that grows only 8 inches (20 cm) tall, but spreads up to 6.5 feet (2 m) across. This species is therefore commonly planted in rock beds and places where width, not height, is desired. It produces white flowers in contrast with its red berry fruits.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- be careful about these in the United States. That are considered invasive plants in a couple of states because they tend to take over and are regarded as pests by some people.

Still, if you keep them maintained you've got something that will be great for attracting butterflies. They are considered invasive in a couple of states because they have adapted too well to the United States so keeping them trimmed and beaten back is essential. Be aware all that work might be a problem so you might want to look elsewhere if you are looking for a plant that will attract butterflies or for some other purpose.


These are not native to the United States, but they have adapted very well and are sometimes used in butterfly gardens. Mix them in with some other plants that attract butterflies and you can enhances your garden with many varieties of butterflies.

If you are looking for a good mix of plants to attract butterflies, ask someone at your local garden shop or your friendly, neighborhood entomologist.

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