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
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - September 01, 2011

From: Fresno, CA
Region: California
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Origin of thorned plant-like object falling from the sky
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

This morning while walking I felt a prick on my arm, like something had bitten me. I looked and saw what appeared to be a very tiny little plant with a thorn on it sticking out of my arm. I pulled it out and in a few moments felt another one. Now it is evening and the site still itches. Any idea what it might have been? I was not in any heavy brush but there were some tall trees overhead.

ANSWER:

The most likely possibility I can think of is that you were struck by small leaflets with spiny stipules. Stipules are the small paired appendages at the base of the petiole (stem) of a leaf.  Several species of Central American acacias have impressively large spiny stipules.  Robinia pseudoacacia (Black locust) is a species native to North America with a bit more modest stipular spines.  It has been reported in California in counties adjacent to Fresno County.  Click "California" on the USDA Plants Database distribution map to see counties where it has been reported in California.  You can also see the spiny stipule on the photograph on that page.  Here is a drawing showing the leaves and the spines and here is a photo.  The tree can grow from 40 to 100 feet tall and is considered invasive in many areas, including California.  One acacia relative, Prosopis pubescens (Screwbean mesquite), with spiny stipules grows in Fresno County and can reach a maximum of about 30 feet.  Here are photos showing the spines.  An insect or small mammal feeding on the tree, could possibly chew on the newly formed leaflets at their base and cause them to fall from the tree with the stipular spines attached.  One species of ant in Africa prunes new leaf shoots (presumably along with the spiny stipules) from acacia trees there.  (Young, T. P., M. L. Stanton & C. E. Christian.  2003.  Effects of Natural and Simulated Herbivory on Spine Lengths of Acacia drepanolobium in Kenya.  Oikos Vol. 101, no. 1: 171-179). 

Whatever the prickly plant-like objects are, it seems likely they fell from the tall trees you said you were walking under.  Your best bet, then, is to go back and try to determine what the trees are.  If you have photos of the trees and/or the prickly object, you should visit our Plant Identification page to find links to plant identification forums that accept photos for identification.

 

More Plant Identification Questions

Incomplete question from Austin TX
June 16, 2012 - If I asked this same question but in regards to Austin TX what would the answer be? My 2 plants have spent 2 winters indoors (they are huge now and never stop blooming), but am wondering about leaving...
view the full question and answer

Identification of plant that looks like a spider plant
February 25, 2008 - Okay Mr. Smarty Pants, I have an identification for you. I have no pictures, but I've been staring at this plant for weeks trying to figure out what it is. I got it as a cutting from a friend who got...
view the full question and answer

Identification of Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) in Atlanta
May 28, 2006 - I live in metro Atlanta. I have a rose variety growing wild in the woods that resembles a Cherokee Rose except it is pink and has seven leaves on the stem. Can you identify it from this description? T...
view the full question and answer

Plant Identification from Round Rock TX
October 26, 2010 - I am looking for the name of a ground cover I saw that looked like large bur oak leaf in a silvery green color. It was in the shade. I tried a search with no luck. Thanks!
view the full question and answer

Plant identification
June 01, 2009 - I'm trying to identify a bush/shrub that is approx. 6 ft. with leaves like an azalea but has orange hot air balloon shaped balls that turn to small orange flowers. Blooming now in May. Dies back ea...
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