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Friday - January 27, 2012

From: Naples, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: Are palm tree thorns poisonous?
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Almost 3 weeks ago I trimmed the fronds of my pygmy date palm. The tip of a thorn was stuck in my finger. I pulled it out. The side of my finger is still very painful and my finger is swollen. I can't see or feel any thorn but the entry spot is still visible and hurts. Is this thorn poisonous. I am experiencing what I would consider arthritis like symptoms. Is this normal?


Phoenix roebelenii (pygmy date palm) is native to southeast Asia and, since our focus and expertise are with plants native to North America, not really something we can tell you much about. We can, however, guide you to resources where you can read about the dermatological effects caused by various species of palms. The Botanical Dermatology Database (BoDD) from Cardiff University in Wales offers an assessment of many of the palms in the Family Arecaceae (syn. Palmae). You will note that their introduction page cites a study in Panama from 1943 that says palm frond thorn injuries (palm species not named) are noted for causing infections. They don't mention Phoenix roebelenii specifically but they do have an entry for Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palm) that says:

"Punctures by sharp thorns on the petioles of these palms are commonly experienced by nursery and landscape gardeners in Florida.  The spine-tip may be broken off and retained in the wound. Such material is not revealed by x-ray. A chemical irritant may also be present on the thorns."

The entry for Phoenix loureiri (also called Pigmy Date Palm) doesn't mention a chemical irritant, but does say:

"Punctures by sharp thorns on the petioles of these palms are commonly experienced by nursery workers and landscape gardeners in Florida."

So, there is some chance that the thorn of Phoenix roebelenii (in the same genus as the two mentioned above) has some chemical irritant associated with it. However, whether it does or not, puncture wounds of any kind are notorious for becoming infected. This is why it is important to remove the thorn as soon as possible and thoroughly clean the wound. Read what the Mayo Clinic has to say about puncture wounds.

If the wound in your finger is still bothering you, I suggest that you see a doctor since you may have an infection.




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