Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spiky Plants

I’m not a fan of spiky plants. There...I said it. Perhaps my loathing started when, as a teenager, I had to remove lots of wild yucca as a fire safety precaution around a cabin my family was building in the foothills of Southern California. Even though I’d choose a feathery fern or hemlock over an agave any day, I will admit to admiring the architectural structure spiky plants offer the landscape.

Photo by Debra Lee Baldwin
I came across this photo in Pacific Horticulture by photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin, author of Designing with Succulents and Succulent Container Gardening. Obviously Debra is a talented photographer, but I’m still amazed at how striking this garden is. And it’s the spiky plants that make all the difference. Doesn’t it remind you of a coral reef? For more information on succulents, follow Debra’s blog.

Photo by H. Zell,
People’s interest in another spiky plant baffles me. What’s commonly called the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) is a prehistoric conifer with thick, spiky green leaves whorled around each branch. A native of the Andean mountains in Chile and Argentina, it’s a huge tree—in favorable conditions it can reach over 100 feet tall—yet I’ve seen it planted in front residential yards close to sidewalks, driveways and streets. I’ve also heard the sound of the coconut-size cones—which are filled with more than 200 edible seeds—drop to the ground and was thankful that I wasn’t within striking distance! Even the trunk is covered in sharp scales. Brought to England at the end of the 18th century, the tree was popular in Victorian parks and gardens. Considered a living fossil and the national tree of Chile, it is now a crime to cut one down in that country because so few remain. It’s a fascinating tree with a 120 million year history.

Do you have a favorite spiky plant that you can’t live without?


  1. I'm still kind of shocked that you just dropped that bomb right at the beginning of the article! Not a fan of spiky plants!? Well at least I know I won't be arm wrestling you for a fabulous Agave at the next HPSO sale!

    To answer your question about which spiky plant I can't live without would be impossible, I love (and want) them all!

  2. I was thinking of you when I wrote that sentence!

    For those of you that don't follow Danger Garden's blog, you might want to check it out: Lots of lovely photos of spiky and not-so-spiky plants.


  3. Right now (and it changes frequently, so this is valid for, oh, maybe the next hour) my favorite spiky plant is Acacia pravissima. I love its spiny little leaves popping right off the branches and the unexpected soft yellow puffs when it blooms.