Ouch! Scratched by another thorn. But that’s okay, because thorns — and also spines, prickles, and sharp-pointed leaves — have a purpose in nature. Actually, they have several.
First, what’s the difference between thorns, spines, and prickles?
- Spines are modified leaves, like what you’ll find on cactus.
- Thorns are modified branches or stems, like those found on citrus trees.
- Prickles are modified extensions of epidermal tissue. Roses have prickles, even though people typically call them thorns. The Fragrant Mimosa above also has prickles. Think of prickles as hairs. Sharp, pointy, painful hairs.
Or, you can just declare them all sharp pointy things. Since humans aren’t lucky enough to be covered in fur, all these plant adaptations hurt!
To the plants, these pointy adaptations might serve to protect them from being eaten. That’s not always the case, though. Cactus plants, for example, are a favorite browse of many livestock, deer, and javelina (people, too), despite the spines. Insects are happy to eat roses with or without their prickles.
But animals appreciate the needle-sharp protections. Smaller animals often hide in prickly shrubs — they have no problem navigating through sharp points. Some will even build their nests among the thorns, prickles, and spines of plants — a ready-made fortress to protect their babies from harm.
Deer will hide their fawn under the pointy leaves of the Agarita, called the Babysitter Bush for good reason.
For wildlife, sharp pointy things on plants mean protection. They serve a purpose in nature, and they are part of making a safe habitat for wildlife. That’s why you’ll find them in my beautiful wildlife garden!
Meredith O’Reilly gardens for wildlife in Austin, Texas, and writes about her garden adventures at Great Stems
© 2011 – 2012, Meredith O’Reilly. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us