En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Saturday - April 09, 2005

From: Fresno, CA
Region: California
Topic: General Botany
Title: Smarty Plants on spines
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

What do you call part of a plant that is needle-like or has spikes or bristles?

ANSWER:

The sharp projections found on plants, which are used mainly as a defense against animals, have several different names and origins. Botanists identify three major kinds: thorns, spines, and prickles. The thorns are modified stems ending in a short point. They originate from axillary buds at nodes (where leaves or branches arise). Texas hawthorn (Crataegus texana) is an example of a plant with thorns. Spines are modified leaves or parts of leaves. The American holly (Ilex opaca) and agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) have leaves modified with sharp projections from the edges. Cactus spines are modified sharpened petioles (leaf stalks) without the leaf blades. Prickles are woody outgrowths of the epidermal tissue or bark and occur in irregular patterns between the nodes. Prickles are often recurved and can serve as support for vines as well as a defense mechanism. Prickly ash, or Tickle-tongue (Zanthoxylum hirsutum), in the Family Rutaceae, and raspberries and other members of the rose family (Family Rosaceae) have prickles.

Additionally, many seeds and seed cases have hooks and barbs that enable them to attach to clothing or animal fur and help to disperse the seeds. Two examples are the Canada cockleburr (Xanthium strumarium) and the devil's claw (Proboscidea louisianica).

You can read more about "Prickles, thorns, spines and their relations" on the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens web page.

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas hawthorn
Crataegus texana

Agarita
Mahonia trifoliolata

Texas hercules' club
Zanthoxylum hirsutum

Louisiana devil's-claw
Proboscidea louisianica

American holly
Ilex opaca

Agarita
Mahonia trifoliolata

Texas pricklypear
Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri

Texas hercules' club
Zanthoxylum hirsutum

Grayleaf red raspberry
Rubus idaeus ssp. strigosus

Canada cockleburr
Xanthium strumarium var. canadense

More General Botany Questions

Fragrant Texas wildflowers from Waco TX
July 28, 2013 - Hi, I'm interested in looking at any Texas Wildflowers which have attractive aromas which I can distill essential oil from. Any ideas? Thanks
view the full question and answer

Do yuccas die after blooming?
October 11, 2010 - We have a blue yucca which was planted 2 years ago and is just now blooming with a tower of white flowers. Will the entire plant die after blooming as the century plants do? If so, is there a way to s...
view the full question and answer

Forestiera pubescens blooming in July
August 07, 2012 - I have a lot of what appears to be Forestiera pubescens. They are covered with the dark blue/black berries and flowers. Apparently they are blooming again in the middle of July. I live about 35 mile...
view the full question and answer

Looking for leaves of milkweed plants for experiment
February 09, 2008 - I am an undergraduate chemistry student at the University of Portland and want to perform an experiment using milkweed leaves. How would I get milkweed leaves at this time of year? Any help you can p...
view the full question and answer

Spraying paint on White Pine tree trunks
October 31, 2011 - Is there a paint that is safe to spray on a tree trunk without damaging/killing the tree? We have White Pines that have ~16" spacing without limbs & would like to 'camouflage' the bare space. If pa...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center