Developing Thorns

1339259The ocotillo in my yard grows each year, usually during Monsoon, when it rains. I’ve written about how it drops and sets leaves in a matter of hours, but I became interested in the thorns.

How does a plant set thorns? Do they grow out of the stems in a separate stage? Do they appear overnight? (I’d believe almost anything about the octotillo).

During the last two weeks my octotillo went into a sudden growth spurt, and I saw, for the first time, how the thorns are formed.

The first thing that happens in the growth spurt is that the stem lengthens and new leaves set. There are two different kind of leaves, and the first ones that set are odd. They have long stems and the fat part of the leaf bends at an odd angle.

Leaves turning into thorns.

Leaves turning into thorns.

The leaf stems are green, but they quickly turn thick, brown and . . . sharp. The leaf ends drop off, leaving the sharp thorns on the stem.

New leaves forming at the base of the thorns.

New leaves forming at the base of the thorns.

And then, almost at the same time as the thorns are forming, small new leaves form at the base of the thorns. They are the real leaves of the ocotillo. They will stay until it becomes too dry to sustain them.

I’ll leave you to see all the metaphor in the ocotillo–how they form protection that looks like a helpless piece of the plant. How thorns aren’t always sharp. They start out as stems, bendable. They harden with time, based on what the plant knows already. And then the leaves come out, at the base, to soften the look of the plant. That should fill your journal for several days.

Quinn McDonald keeps a nature journal because it’s just like real life.

21 thoughts on “Developing Thorns

  1. As a born and raised East Coaster who still resides among the green trees at 67 I truly enjoy all your posts about your part of the country and how it sustains itself. On my one visit to Tucson years ago I only saw brown – obviously I didn’t hang around long enough….:) Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos and yes, the metaphor on this one will have me going all evening.

  2. I’ve been searching for years for a way to write a children’s book that would express the power that is within each of us to grow. As an abused child I knew I could address the topic. Only this week had the idea of a perennial flower’s viewpoint occurred to me– maybe your thorny plant instead?

  3. Some day I hope to make it down south to see this amazing plant up close. I am loving the photos and descriptions you post.
    In Oregon, we have so many plants that it’s sometimes overwhelming and becomes just a blur.

    • Not only didn’t I know, I never gave it much thought. It’s very different than the way they develop on a cactus. If it hadn’t happened in front of my eyes, I wouldn’t have this experience to treasure!

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