Monday, April 1, 2013

A thorn by any other name

While pruning my roses last week I got to thinking about thorns. L D Braithwaite is loaded with them.

Thumbing through a compilation of favorite sayings, you might find 300 or more quotes referring to roses. Many of these adages also mention the dreaded thorns. For instance, Anne Bronte wrote “he that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.”

And of course we all know “every rose has its thorns.”

But the truth is, those nasty spikes we call thorns are not thorns at all. Botanists actually call them prickles. 

The Bourbon rose Zephirine Drouhin is thornless
According to the American Rose Society, a thorn is a branch of a plant that becomes woody, hard and pointed. Cactus plants, locust trees and many varieties of citrus have thorns. These thorns are deeply embedded in the plant itself and are difficult to break off.

Rose prickles, on the other hand, can be snapped off quite easily since they are part of the outer layers of the stem. Just give a prickle a little push sideways and see what happens.

Prickles are smaller than thorns and are useful in helping roses climb across other plants. They can also give potential predators a painful rebuke.

Although prickles aren’t supposed to be as intimidating as thorns, my arms, legs and face can’t tell much of a difference. When I’m out doing a little impromptu pruning and neglect to dress properly, I come in covered with scratches. I always tell people it’s because my roses love me and want to give me hugs.

Seriously, however, there’s an important reason to protect yourself from prickle punctures.

Commonly known as rose thorn disease, Sporotrichosis is an infection caused by the fungus Sporothrix schenckii that usually affects the skin but can spread to other parts of the body. Infections in the joints, lungs and central nervous system are possible, although rare.
James Galway doesn't snag me
The fungus is found naturally in soil, on the tips of rose thorns, on sphagnum moss and hay. It enters the skin through small cuts or abrasions and first appears  -- sometimes several weeks after getting pricked – as small bumps. Left untreated, these bumps can later develop into open sores.

The best advice is to completely avoid this ugly disease by wearing long sleeves and sturdy gloves while working around your roses. I truly love my Bionic Gloves – they are triple layered goatskin gauntlet gloves designed by a hand surgeon that protect my arms up to the elbows. After a weekend of serious pruning I ended up with nary a scratch, avoiding a potentially thorny situation.

Kahil Gibran noted that “the optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.”

Crocus Rose does when she can
I admire the rose but remain mindful of the thorns just to be safe. And I say thorns because even though I know better, I can’t bring myself to call them prickles.

“Every rose has its prickles” simply doesn’t sound right.

And I prefer the sentiment of this German proverb: “Instead of complaining that the rosebush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.”


Jason said...

Huh, up until now I thought I should wear gloves just because those thorns - sorry, prickles - can really hurt.

Lynn Hunt said...

Be careful out there, Jason! Gardening can be a thorny adventure!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Enjoyed having my memory refreshed about thorns and prickles - I know I've learned it before, but this refreshed the memory connections!

I also appreciated learning about rose thorn disease, and I will be much more careful around my roses from now on. I actually have a small bit of rose thorn imbedded in my index finger from almost 10 years ago - it looks almost like it's encased in gel. Glad I didn't get the disease.

Your photos - and the roses you highlighted - really caught my attention as well. Thanks for a great post!

spurge said...

I am definitely an optimist - thorns? what thorns? :-) On a flower so beautiful, who can complain about a few prickles.

However, those bionic gloves do sound tempting...

shenandoah kepler said...

This is the first year I bought myself "rose gloves" that comes up to the elbow and I don't know why I hadn't done it sooner! Of course, I had never seen them in my local nursery or big box store, so I ordered them via internet. Now I have just came home from Lowes with another pair - they now carry them - and since I travel between Florida and Maryland, I'll have a pair in both locations. I am always scraping my arms and bleeding with contact from any hardscaping - a sign of aging, I guess.

HolleyGarden said...

I have some rose gloves, but find them to be so hot I've rarely worn them in the past. However, I've gotten so tired of being scratched, I know I need to start wearing them. Thanks for the reminder, and the Bionic glove referral. I'll check them out.

Teresa/ said...

When I am out pruning I tend to forget that the roses can pass on these diseases. My arms show how much my roses loved me this weekend. Thanks for the reminder! I find "rose gloves" aren't very pliable and make it harder to prune. Maybe I need to get some of the bionic gloves ... are they more pliable!

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Gaia Gardener! So glad you stopped by and shared your amazing story about that bit of thorn in your finger. Your rose will be with you always! So glad you enjoyed the posting.

Lynn Hunt said...

Hey spurge, many garden centers now carry those gloves so see how you like them. By the way, the company does not sponsor me. First saw them at a rose show I was judging.

I agree, forget the thorns and enjoy the flowers!

Lynn Hunt said...

Shenandoah-- great idea to have a pair in both locations. I'd love to hear how you found your MD garden. We are way behind 2012 in the mountains, but that just makes the anticipation sweeter. Safe travels!

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi HolleyGarden! As Shenandoah mentioned the gloves are now in some big box stores so you can check them out. I have just ordered a new pair after wearing my old ones out. My husband loves his, too. Take care with those scratches!

Lynn Hunt said...

Teresa, the new ones may seem a bit stiff but once you start wearing them they should feel more flexible. See if you can find some to try on or check out the return policy if you order online.

I'm sure your roses just wanted to give you a hug this weekend!

Phillip Oliver said...

Interesting but scary. It is a miracle I don't have this (or maybe I already do?) I'm constantly scratching up my arms, hands, everything.

Lynn Hunt said...

Phillip, I sometimes forget to put on my gloves (or I am too lazy to go get them) and get scratched. We just need to be aware in case one of those punctures or scratches starts to look ugly. Take care!

Sunil Patel said...

Hi Lynn, I'm still new to roses and know I have many more scratches, pricks and cuts to come as I "get to grips" with handling the short climbers we have. I do believe that when the roses have clambered to the top of the arches and they are covered in large, heavily scented blooms, it will very much be worth the odd nick or two.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, I could not have said it better. I look forward to seeing pictures of your wonderful roses adorning your arches. The anticipation of such beauty to come makes this delayed spring bearable.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Yes, those prickles are nasty if they get you. My favorite roses are rugosas that are laden with thorns....or prickles if you will. I like your quotes -- especially the last, I am glad when my thorn bush has roses. :-)

Lynn Hunt said...

Janet, it was a fun subject for a posting, but in my experience it is almost impossible to grow roses without experiencing a few thorny situations! Some of my new "thorn bushes" arrive Thursday. I'm glad they'll have roses!

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