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Thorns, Spines and Prickles

 Did you know plants have their own mechanical defences?

Some of them can cause severe discomfort and even pain.

If you get pricked by a thorn, spine or prickle, clean it immediately and watch for infection.

There is something called "Plant Thorn Arthritis" which I will write about soon in another page.

In the meantime, here's what you need to know.

How to Tell the Difference
Between Thorns,
and Prickles



THORNS are shoots or modified stems with very sharp, woody points and appear immediately above a leaf.. or where a leaf would be and each thorn contains a "vascular bundle" (see sketch) -

These are some trees and shrubs that have THORNS.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna),

Quince (Cydonia oblonga),

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica or Frangula alnus) or 

Honey-Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)

WHY?:  they form a mechanical protection from plant eaters

Thorn Sketch


It's part of a transport system of tube-like tissues that run through the plant carrying water and nutrition to different parts of the plant..

- shown with red lines in the sketch above, they go up the stem and  out the length of the thorn.

Vascular bundles are those dots you see when you cut a  piece of celery (sketch below).

Hawthorn Thorns

Quince Thorn

 Buckthorn Thorn

Honey Locust Thorns


SPINES are sharp, pointed modified leaves that form spikes as the plant evolves, replacing the leaves - especially in plants living in dry conditions like Cacti - as the spines help reduce water loss.

Spines appear in the position of a leaf, just below an axillary bud  They also contain vascular bundles and are found in: 

Barberry  (Berberis)

Black Locust (Robinia pseudo acacia)

FUNCTION: mechanical protection as well as preventing excessive transpiration in plants like Cacti.


Black Locust Spines

Barberry Spines

Cactus Spine Sketch


PRICKLES are modified hairs (epidermis) that are sharp, woody outgrowths on the stem or cane of a plant but unlike thorns and spines, prickles do not contain vascular bundles.

They are  extensions of the plant cortex and epidermis (outer layer of the stem) and are neither modified stems nor leaves
They are also  easy to remove without damaging the stem or cane

 - protection

- like grappling hooks for stems to climb over neighbouring objects like trellises or trees

LOCATED: anywhere on the twig or cane

Roses (Rosa)

Blackberries. Raspberries (Rubus)

Rose Prickles Sketch


A Thorn, Spine and Prickle

"Some people grumble that roses have thorns

but I am grateful that thorns have roses"

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Actually roses have prickles.... nevertheless....


How Roses Grow

Pruning Roses


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