Plants have developed a plethora of ingenious defense mechanisms, the most primitive—and effective—of which are thorns, prickles, and spines to protect themselves from predators and birds. Spiky plants can be difficult to maintain and prune, but when it comes to personal home security, these masters of pain protect property lines and first-floor windows with ease. Homeowners and farmers in Texas may opt to avoid such trees due to their risk, or they may want to plant them because of their sharp protrusions. But first, what are the most common thorn trees in Texas?
Most of these prickly plants have lovely blossoms in spring and vibrant berries in the fall as added benefits. They are strong and hardy in many growing zones, and those that are shrub-like can be trained into impenetrable hedges. This keeps any home from looking like a high-security complex, but these thorny bushes and plants may not be suitable if you have children or pets. However, for many, it is a more aesthetic alternative than an unattractive barbed-wire fence. This article will uncover the common thorn trees in the Lone Star State and other fascinating facts.
6 Common Thorn Trees in Texas
1. Honey Locusts
Honey locusts are mostly found and thrive in full sunlight and the fertile soil of East Texas. Three-pronged thorns wrap around the trunk and branches of these endemic Texas trees, and the thorns can grow up to a foot long—it’s basically the Freddy Krueger of plants! Botanists believe the thorns arose thousands of years ago to protect the tree from enormous sloths and short-faced bears that roamed North America. Although these prehistoric creatures no longer exist, the flora’s lethal defenses still do.
Despite the tree’s drought-tolerant and adaptable foliage and its spectacular fall color, climbing it would be challenging as it can grow up to 60 feet tall. On the other hand, the seeds and pulpy pods provide winter food for rabbits, squirrels, and deer, and the blossoms are said to be ideal bee food. Additionally, honey locust is an important food plant for caterpillars of the honey locust moth, bisected honey locust moth, silver-spotted skipper, moon-lined moth, and orange wing. Honey locust is a “pioneer” or early colonizing species, one of the first trees to establish itself in disturbed landscapes such as former fields and pastures that are reverting to forest.
2. Jerusalem Thorns
The trunks of Jerusalem thorns have needle-like thorns, and the twigs have sharp spines. The trees resist limestone soils, drought, heat, and salt. These fast-growing trees, also native to Texas, have long, thin leaves and hanging panicles of yellow flowers. It can reach heights of 15 to 20 feet, and some trees can be nearly as wide as they are tall.
The Jerusalem thorn prefers damp, poorly drained environments. It is usually found in semi-arid locations near creeks, rivers, and man-made water sites (bores and dams), especially in a distinctive wet and dry season. It can also be found in meadows, open forests, pastures, waste areas, disturbed regions, and roadsides.
3. Saffron Plum Trees
The saffron plum tree, sometimes called the La Coma tree, is native to Texas. These little trees are typically found on the Rio Grande plains and across the Gulf grasslands and marshes in the state’s south. Small spines form on the twig ends and branches of the trees and can withstand heat, drought, and alkaline soils. Birds and animals graze on the berries of these evergreens, which have bell-shaped blossoms.
4. Mexican Lime Trees
Mexican lime trees, also called Key lime or West Indian lime, have short and spiky thorns and are vulnerable to cold. Growers can choose a thornless cultivar, although these varieties are less productive. The trees are medium-sized and bushy, almost shrub-like, with pleasantly scented leaves when crushed. The fruits are small, about one and a half inches in diameter, and fairly round, with a thin, smooth, greenish-yellow peel that is very aromatic when ripe. The flesh is greenish-yellow in color, seedy, and acidic, with a delicate texture. Mexican limes fall off the tree as they reach full maturity, from autumn to early winter.
5. Mesquite Tree
The mesquite tree is a Texas emblem — or, depending on your perspective, a Texas curse. Mesquite is a native Texas plant that can be found throughout the state. The trees have a nasty reputation for being invasive, especially near grazing areas where the thorns are harmful to livestock. Mesquite has strong thorns that can grow to be 2 inches long. The trees are adaptable to most soils, withstand extreme heat and drought, and have fragrant blossoms and long bean pods. These seed pods attract wildlife and serve as perches and nesting locations for various species, including the hummingbird.
6. Roemer’s Acacia
The thorns on Roemer’s acacia are shaped like a cat’s claw. This tree can reach heights of 15 to 20 feet, classifying it as a shrub or small tree; however, it requires deep alkaline soil to attain its full potential. Roemer acacia trees grow in Edwards County, Texas’ easternmost county, but only grow 3 to 6 feet tall in their limestone soils. The trees are evergreen or semi-evergreen and can withstand low water and extreme temperatures. In the spring, these native trees yield flattish, somewhat twisted pods with clusters of spherical white to greenish-white flowers.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Burhan Oral GUDU/Shutterstock.com
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- Hunker, Available here: https://www.hunker.com/12495583/trees-with-thorns-in-texas
- Garden Guides, Available here: https://www.gardenguides.com/104387-identify-persimmon-tree.html
- Popular Mechanics, Available here: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/g2924/9-plants-deadly/