Quick Commentary

Nature’s Not Just Poisonous, She’s Sharp and Wants to Hurt You Too

It’s no surprise that Nature has it in for us, I write about Natures’s poison, toxins, and venoms once or twice a week. In a surprise move, I’m not going to talk about poisons today. Instead I thought I’d showcase Nature’s Plan-B: sharp and pointy things.

Note: In all honesty, I really just wanted an excuse (like I need one) to become familiar with my new camera, a Fuji X-E1. All photos were taken with a lens older than me, a manual focus Konica 50mm f1.7. New camera, 40 year old lens . . . that’s just the way I roll.

Sharp and pointy plants are just another defense mechanism to keep predators at bay. But unlike some poisons, you know right away when you’ve been jabbed with something sharp. Or you sit on a cactus. Don’t laugh, I’ve done it.

So sit back, and enjoy a brief, non-exhaustive photo essay of Nature’s sharp pointy things that want to cause you harm.


Mahonia trifoliolata


Colletia paradoxa – “Anchor” or “Jet Plane”


Opuntia xalta – “Prickly Pear”


Agave lophantha


Some type of paddle cactus


Agave Salmiana – “Crazy Horse Agave”


Agave parryi – “Mescal Barrel Agave”


Yucca linearifolia


Denmoza rhodacantha


Agave victoriae – lechuguilla


Agave victoriae – reginae


Yucca aloifolia – “Spanish Bayonet”




Agave scabra – “Rough Agave”




Yucca schottii


Solanum quitoense – “Naranjilla”


12 thoughts on “Nature’s Not Just Poisonous, She’s Sharp and Wants to Hurt You Too

  1. I’d never thought about it before but I wonder what evolutionary pressures lead to the different varieties of needles and, um, other pointy things

  2. When I lived in Tucson, a visiting colleague wanted to pose for a photo of himself, sitting bare-assed on a “barrel cactus” – he assured me it was perfectly safe and that he knew what he was doing. We went to a very scenic part of the desert, with particularly nice tall-grown specimens of all varieties and carefully maintained path, everything properly tagged with Latin and English names. Unfortunately this walk in the desert is also quite frequented… So, my friend selected a barrel cactus which had its thorns bent inwards – on which he could safely position his naked butt, and just as he dropped his jeans and was ready to hop on it, a busload of Dutch tourists walked in – giving us pretty puzzled looks. So, my friend zipped up and run to another barrel cactus in distance, and there he sat himself on in hurry (so as to snap the photo before the tourists walk in us him again). His expression on the photos is somewhat strained. The specimen was not selected carefully, the thorns were not bent sufficiently inwards… Later that evening he was performing his ass surgery with a mirror, pliers, a bottle of rum and obscenities shouted on top of his voice.

    • That’s hilarious. Come to think of it, some of my favorite people are Dutch…odd senses of humor. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Old boat, new engine: analogous to old lens, new camera. In each instance results are often especially satisfying. Love the Agaves.

  4. What, no soil vector delivery angle? No colloquial plant names based on township rules (e.g. Cadgermaces Abodenonsis Floridiens, Flaying kudzu, scruffstems) (Makes note to take botulinum pairing micrographs next time dragged across the desert.) Nice photo credits.

  5. but you do realize that some of your photos are food plants? Tequila and pulque are both from fermented agave juice, and flat cactus (Opuntia species) are the source of “cactus pears”, as well as the pads being edible- just get rid of the spines, and “naranjilla” means “little orange” in Spanish… Solanum quitoense is from Quito- people from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador use the ripe fruits for juice. The green fruits are toxic, though- they contain the usual nightshade alkaloids… The JCRA at NCSU has some excellent specimens planted outside their front entrance right now (until the cold kills them). Saw them just yesterday.
    BTW- love your site! I’m big on wild edibles, and ethnic fruits and vegetables. And interested in the plant toxins in some foods.

    • Oh absolutely. Food, but still pokey. I was at JCRA yesterday too, in fact all of these photos are from there. They also have another set of naranjillas by the trial gardens. Such odd plants, with spikes on both sides of the leaves. Thanks for the input and for reading!

      • never noticed the ones by the trial gardens… BTW, your photo of Gelsemium, was that taken at JCRA? They have a great specimen on the rooftop terrace, and the background of your photo looks just like the wall behind their plant…
        Have you seen the Daturas that they have? The seed capsules are almost mature- VERY spiky. And what is your take on the Poncirus trifoliata concerning edibility?
        Me may have even crossed paths at the JCRA on occasion. I love the place, and am an NCSU grad (but nothing botanically related).

        • Yup, the Gelsemium is from JCRA too. I didn’t like the photos I took earlier when it was in bloom…so I’ll try again next year.

          The Poncirus is edible…we’re not supposed to pick anything from JCRA, so I couldn’t possibly tell you that it is on the sour side, and the juice kind of sticky and sap like, but really not so bad. It might make a good marmalade or drink, but not something you’d eat a bunch of.

      • No, not the poncirus from JCRA- my neighbors have a tree which began fruiting this year…

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