En Español

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

Identification of bush/vine with purple berries
August 09, 2014 - I was clearing fence line and came across this plant it looks like a Bush but underneath grows like a vine it has long broad leaves that reminded me of Polk salad but it grows berry clusters the berri...
view the full question and answer

ID for two flowers blooming in November in Buda TX
November 29, 2015 - two different plants growing in my wild area. 1. springs of tiny yellow flowers atop almost foot tall woody stem. 2. Clump of tiny near white bud like flowers. clump about 6 to 8 inches across on ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of plant on shores of Lake Erie
September 27, 2011 - I've used Newcomb's and several other guides but cannot ID: Green small dot like flowers, found on the beach of Lake Erie in Dunkirk NY, many of them growing right in the sand. Smells very much, a...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification
May 03, 2010 - I have a 50 ft tree in my front forest apartment in Lewisburg, TN garden, that is blooming white cluster flowers. They are slightly fragrant. I thought Carolina silverbell but they have NO yellow stam...
view the full question and answer

Iris brevicaulis in Southwest Michigan
April 22, 2007 - We live in Kalamazoo, MI (Southwest Michigan Zone 6) and discovered last year that we have an iris brevicaulis (we think) growing (and very pretty) on our property. It has the "zig zag" stem. It see...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center