Friday, July 29, 2022


If one of the functions of a hedge is to contain farm animals, then "thorns" are almost a necessity.

If the function of that same hedge is also to produce food for humans then the kind of thorns and some of the fruit characteristics are also critical.


If you think back on your rambles through the woods and fields, you realize that thorns come in all kinds of flavors.

Eastern prickly pear has fine hair-like thorns that are almost invisible and detach when brushed, leaving an irritating keepsake in your skin.

Multiflora rose has thorns that are sharp, stout and they are recurved so the points dig-in as you try to push through the arching canes.

Black Locust also have recurving thorns and the tips often break off below the skin and fester.

Green brier has dense, needles.

Honey Locust trunk
Honey Locust has big balls of thorns that deter everything except pre-Columbian Proboscidea from eating their pods.

Brambles have variable thorns. Some blackberry thorns are ferocious to walk through but the fruit is well displayed on arching canes and you can fill your buckets without having to wade through the patch. Most raspberry thorns are limp and can barely penetrate a pair of jeans. Gooseberry thorns are short and a careful picker can avoid them.

Domesticated fruits

Many of the domesticated fruits (pears, some apples and plums, for instance) have a juvenile stage when the seedlings carry many thorns. This makes sense from the standpoint of a short seedling needing protection from browsing animals while a mature tree of the same species with its canopy safely above the reach of herbivores does not.

Not surprisingly, shorter species like American plums hold onto their thorns later into life than taller species.

If thorns are desired then they can often be reactivated by keeping the tree juvenile. The simplest way to do that is to cut the tree down and the suckers from the lower parts of the trunk and from the roots will be "juvenile". You can also partially cut the trunk and bend it over (pleaching) to stimulate suckers from the roots.

Another factor that makes thorns on domesticated fruits less of an issue than wild fruits is that domesticated fruits are larger and heavier. They often have longer stems and hang-down. Lastly, the fruit-stem abscisses where it joins the fruit spur when it is ripe. That means that a slight twist or tug will let the fruit drop into your hand.

Klim's Prize Seaberry

 That compares to a species that is much closer to wild...say Sea-berry...where the stems do not weaken, the fruit is small and very close to the stems and the fruit is soft. Picking those fruit (with very sharp, needle-like thorns interspersed in the clusters of berries) is a chore. They don't want to pull off the stem and they turn to mush in your hand...and you get poked by the thorns.

Extreme thorns

  • Pyrus betulifolia
  • Some hawthorn species
  • Rosa multiflora and canina
  • Wild-type honey locust 

I am sure there are others. Feel free to add them to comments.


  1. Hedge apple, aka Osage Orange? Good wood, fruit has positive qualities as well. Can weave into a hedge or grow into tall trees.

    1. Yeah, osage orange is good, but it is really hard on tires. I've stopped running my bushhog any closer than 5 yards from the hedgerow. Getting tractor tires repaired is about $100, and you pretty much have to use another tractor to lift the tire into the pickup. And that's assuming the thorn does not go through the sidewall.


  3. Is honey locust also called Bodark?

  4. I (showing, or at least feeling, my age again) was shown how to lay hedges ( and dry stone walls) as a wee lad, allowed to carry the billhook (I still have the scars), willow pegs (and the flask of tea and butties). I can almost hear the instructions on how to select the best stem for a coppice stump, how to cut a pleach and how to best lay a ligger.

    My point? It may have more to do with the variety, and complete domestication of animals here (no semi ferals), but thorns as such aren’t/weren’t seen as helpful so much as ‘density’ – thus the regular relaying of the hedges (the best bit is always the shock and anger in the eyes of 'townies' seeing the stripping and laying, especially of a West Cumberland type, which they see as destroying it - until they see it a month or two later).

    I’d guess the requirements could be very different there.

    I was interested to see the other (cultivated) varieties of Hippophaes, being aware of the commercial ‘thornless’ strain (spit, it's not proper buckthorn unless you're scarred for life), but since it is available (for free to anyone who wanders near the coast) other strains aren’t seen here ( or Scandinavia and Russia, where it’s always been a popular ‘luxury’ crop).

    This interweb thing is quite informative, isn't it ;)


  5. Kiowa blackberries(food), agaves(deadly fall hazard), prickly pears(food), etc, make for good perimeter plants in the countryside. Once the heat breaks, I plan to stick more pads along the fences. All of these plants can handle single digits so freezing isn't an issue for southern states. Got at least one hawthorn tree coming back from the stump; a fence went over it.

    Its difficult to cut/jump a fence when it's in the middle of prickly pears. Times may be good right now but they won't always be so and I prepare accordingly. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of fence to go to plant thorns on.

    I adore the concept of the medieval hedge row and low-maintenance, perennial plants that ripen with each season.

    - Arc

  6. If this hedge is to keep farm animals in (or out) I would want thorns that don't leave bits behind, as that can create issues for the animals (and expense for the owner). Rose and blackberry would be good candidates, as they hook in more as the critter goes further in, but don't leave pieces in the cut to fester. I'm a big fan of thorny blackberries, but then I love blackberry jam and pie.

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