About a week ago, we had a thunderstorm blow through the small town where I live. Aside from dropping nearly two inches of rain and occasionally spitting pea sized hail, the wind snapped off a large branch of one of the two Washington hawthorn trees I have growing in the front yard. This was not as bad as it sounds as the trees are only about twelve feet tall. However cutting up the branch and dropping the fragments on the brush pile in the back yard was a major adventure.
When I first ordered the trees from a small mail order catalog about fifteen years ago, the sales description mentioned that the trees have dainty white bunches of flowers which attract bees in the spring (which they do) and later on in the season, have bright red berries that birds can feed on. (they do that as well). The description mentioned that the trees have thorns (well – yeah – hawTHORNS). What they neglected to mention was just how big these thorns get. Namely that they would be lethal daggers nearly two inches long with needle sharp tips.
These things are seriously evil. As the trees grew bigger, the thorns got larger and more numerous. Now it’s as much as your life is worth to go near these plants. Even the tree trunk has thorns sticking out at random points here and there. I don’t know if any of you are homesteaders but you might like these as hedges to keep out intruding animals or humans. Just make sure you have a suit of armor when you go out to trim them.
Of course there are various species of thorn trees and bushes even more formidable than my killer hawthorns. Honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos) grow in the eastern part of the US and can sport thorns 3 to 4 inches in length. This site shows a list of the meanest thorn trees the author could come up with. Doubtless there are trees or shrubs out there that could top even what he shows. As for why plants develop this formidable weaponry, that should be obvious. They don’t want to be eaten any more than we do. If they can’t come up with lethal poisons capable of drastically shortening your lifespan or at least making you retch nonstop or break out with some gruesome rash, they evolve skin puncturing barbs designed to quickly discourage any potential nosher.
While thorns can certainly be a nuisance, they do have their uses. For example, thorns have been used by some traditional cultures for tattooing. While I haven’t come across any information suggesting they served as needles for sewing, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had been. The most intriguing use for thorns can be found at Staffordshire.org which shows thorns being used in archeology to clean gold artifacts too soft to stand up to conventional cleaning tools.
Doubtless inquiring minds will be able to come up with further ideas on how to make use of these fierce plant armaments. Mother Nature will provide if only we give her a chance!