If you have ever felt the spiky thorn of cactus or a hawthorn, then you know these can be very sharp and painful. In this article, I wanted to give a quick overview of the reasons that plants have thorns.
Plants with thorns are an excellent deterrent to any animal that wants to eat them. Thorns come in all sizes and shapes, but they all serve the same purpose. As the thorns are so sharp, most animals will not come close to them and would not consider trying to eat them.
Although we think of the sharp appendages on cacti, roses, and hawthorns as thorns, these are pretty different. Cactus have spines, and these are a type of leaf. Roses have a tickle on the stem, which grows from the outer skin. Thistles also have chills, while hawthorns, as the name suggests, have true thorns.
The roses’ prickles are easy to remove from the plant, as they are only attached to the surface. However, the cactus spines and the thorns on the hawthorn bush are more difficult to break off. This is because they are attached to the structure of the plant.
Although these plants are harder to eat and provide a good defense, some animals feed on plants with thorns. Donkeys eat thistles without problems, while giraffes and camels use their long tongues to get in between the spines to get to the leaves.
Not many animals feed on plants with thorns, spines, or prickles, showing us that this method of defense works.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.