The Wonderful World Of The Prickly Plant
Although rubbing up against a prickly plant is not the most enjoyable thing one can experience, the world would be a less colorful and interesting place without them. A prickly plant at one extreme can have very small spikes or spines which means they may need to be handled with a bit of care, while at the other extreme, some have spikes that could almost be used as weapons, and the plants often do just that.
The succulents, especially the cacti, are usually the first category of plants that come to mind when we think of a prickly plant. The epitome of prickly plants may well be the barrel cactus. The large ones can resemble an ottoman, but are plants you don't want to rest your feet or anything else on. The barrel cactus is a fascinating plant however and is a great favorite in southwestern gardens, or when grown in containers as house plants most anywhere else.
The Least favorite Of Lewis And Clark - The prickly plant having the worst reputation may be the prickly pear. This low growing cactus first gained a national reputation because of the problems it caused (agonies might be a better word for the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery as they trekked across the Great Plains and on into Montana. While often dismissed as a nuisance weed, the prickly pear cactus has very beautiful blooms, and is quite a charming little plant when growing in a controlled manner.
Sago palms, the agave plants, and yuccas are also prickly, though if you keep a slight distance away, they are very attractive plants and favorites for landscaping. The agave adds a bit of insult to injury in that its points are not only sharp but somewhat toxic, and can leave you with a little reminder for quite some time after being stuck by one. The well known and extremely useful Aloe Vera plant also falls into the prickly plant category though it is usually not too much of a problem to handle, and the spines are generally removed from the leaves before they go to market.
Sunflowers? - We don't usually look at sunflowers as being particularly prickly, although many of them have tiny needles on their stalks and stems, which are usually of little concern to the gardener. Several members of the sunflower family are quite prickly however, these being the thistles. The points on the leaves on most members of the thistle group have spines on them, and a gardener is usually careful to wear gloves when handling the plants. One of the most invasive and noxious thistles is the Canada thistle. Canadians get a bad rap on this one, as the Canadian thistle has is origins in Europe, and is not native to North America. A native North American thistle is the Hooker thistle. It is not commonly seen as is the case with the Canadian thistle, since it is almost exclusively found in alpine and sub-alpine growing zones.
Don't Forget The Nettles - Aloe Vera isn't the only prickly plant that brings with it a host of benefits. Nettles would have to be added to that list as well. It isn't so much the sharpness of the nettles that cause us pain, but the toxic elements contained in the spines which, should you walk through a patch of nettles, could leave you with a painful and itchy rash. There are actually a number of different species of nettles, but the ones we most commonly see, and are most apt to be stung by, are actually edible, and when cooked or brewed for tea are essentially detoxified. Nettle leaves are very nutritious, and can be used as a substitute for spinach (though only when cooked), and nettle-based teas are known for their deep, rich aroma.
Sunflowers, Cacti, and Nettles – quite an interesting combination.