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?


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
7 ratings

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.




More Poisonous Plants Questions

Vines for fence, safe for horses in California
December 12, 2013 - I live in a fire prone part of Orange County, CA named Silverado and own horses. Am interested in fast growing vines to cover a fenced area which are horse safe. Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Vines for a backyard pergola not toxic to dogs and cats
April 26, 2015 - We have just built a pergola in out backyard and are wanting a vine to grow up and around the posts. We have 3 dogs and also have a cat that loves to go outside. We are really looking for something th...
view the full question and answer

Is Loropetalum poisonous to horses in Lake City FL?
October 26, 2010 - Is loropetalum poisonous to horses? I know it is a member of the witch hazel family but cannot find a definitive answer about loropetalum itself. Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Are magnolia trees toxic for dogs?
February 05, 2014 - Del Mar, California- are magnolia trees, (their bark, roots, pods) toxic to small dogs? My Westie terriers are exhibiting lack of appetite and diarrea this late winter. Tonight I saw on our local n...
view the full question and answer

Detoxifying soil from York England
August 15, 2012 - How do you neutralize toxic soil, it may have been contaminated by Foxglove Digitalis Purpurea? Thankyou
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center