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Plants interact with their surroundings in interesting ways. Some use herbivores to spread their seed, and others use spikes to keep herbivores away.
Hundreds of spiky plants have spiky stems, torn branches, and even prickly fruit. Plants with true spiky leaves are less common and generally live in xeric environments. A unique spiky leaf plant is the naranjilla, a family member of the eggplant.
Plants with spiky leaves are common among succulents, though the often-mentioned cacti have spiky stems and not spiky leaves. The prickly pear pads are leaves that evolved into succulent spines.
This article covers a range of plants with spiky leaves and includes some with spiky stems. Spiky plants are of special interest in adding interesting features to your garden, beautifying your home and keeping your landscape attractive.
Unique Spiky Plants
Here are less common plants with spiky leaves. The Japanese Sage is an especially aggressive plant with lanceolate, linear leaves with an aggressively sharp point at the end. The spikes of the naranjilla mentioned above are not on the leaf margins but are prominently scattered on the leaf surface.
Japanese Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
Sago’s palm is a tropical and sub-tropical showy evergreen member of an ancient plant family known as Cycadaceae, dating 200 million years back. The plant is native to the Japanese Islands of Kyusha and Ryukyu and southern China.
Generally grown as outdoor pot plants, the sago palm leaves have a midrib that divides into numerous three to six-inch narrow leaflets with spiked ends.
Sago palms are low-maintenance but prefer bright but indirect light and well-drained soil. You can expect some pain if stung by the spiky leaves. Also, be aware that the plant is highly toxic to dogs, and a single seed ingested can cause death.
Naranjilla (Solanum quitoense)
Naranjilla, a native of Ecuador with spiky leaves, is a member of the Solanaceae family, a cousin of tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
This tropical plant has large, lush green leaves that can reach up to two feet (60 cm) long, with deeply serrated edges, and covered in tiny, purple hairs (trichomes).
The naranjilla’s dark green leaves look soft but grow sharp thorns along the veins to discourage larger herbivores. The naranjilla’s spiky leaves are not as aggressive as some other species but sufficiently to deter touching or munching.
Naranjilla fruits are like little oranges, hence the Spanish name that means little orange. In Ecuador, the plant’s sweet (when ripe) fruit juice is a popular beverage called lulo, which tastes like a blend of lemon and pineapple.
Some eggplant growers, and it seems most prominent in the Turkish Orange variety, may find their plants have spiky leaves. It is still being determined why the Naranjilla gene sometimes infiltrates eggplants, even though both are from the same Solanaceae family.
Alice Sundew (Drosera Aliciae)
I had to add at least one unusual carnivorous plant to the mix. The Drosera aliciae is an easy-to-care-for plant suited to first-time gardeners. Planted as a companion plant, it can help manage gnats, ants, flies and other pests, making a meal of them.
Each leaf has fine spikes and glands at the tips that secrete a sticky, dew-like substance that stays on the leaf all day. The dew lures insects that the plant’s enzymes decompose for consumption.
Succulents – 4 Common Spike Leaf Plant Genera
In addition to the many outdoor-friendly agave varieties, many thrive as indoor plants. Agaves are among the most well-liked thorny plants with their distinctive bluish-green foliage.
The agave plant can reach up to six feet tall (23 feet tall when flowering). Flowering is a once-in-a-lifetime event because the adult plant subsequently dies. It may take 10 to 25 years to bloom.
Fresh seeds are easy to propagate, but most existing plants are grown from Agave plantlets growing at the plant’s base.
Its long, spiky leaves naturally blend in to create a rosette and a beautiful cup-shaped flower head, making it ideal for landscaping expansive spaces.
Agave plants add form and color to a xeriscape outdoors, and some varieties are suitable for indoor growth (if you want a plant with pointy spines). Combining Agave plants with rock gardens and with other succulents with spiky leaves can help you develop a unique look.
As will all plants, but especially succulents, ensure the soil drains well. While succulents are generally drought tolerant, all plants rely on some water for photosynthesis.
Succulents are more drought-resistant because they don’t breathe during the day’s heat, limiting moisture loss due to transpiration. It’s nature’s way of helping them survive temperatures that would kill other plants.
Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoriae-reginae)
The Queen Victoria agave is one of the most valued species and is parent to several hybrids and subspecies. Cultivars are often developed to enhance and modify the white variegation this plant offers. Beauty is rarely so low-maintenance.
American Aloe (Agave americana)
Though called an aloe, it is not part of the aloe family. The century plant is a popular ornamental plant native to Central America, southern North and northern South America.
The American aloe is a monocarpic species that store the nutrients needed for producing a single, erect inflorescence in its leaves for decades. Inflorescences are up to 30 feet (9 m) tall and develop from the center of the basal rosette.
As far as spiky plants go, aloe vera is probably better known for the medicinal properties of its prickly leaves. Still, only a few know they make an excellent natural rooting agent.
Stick the cutting in the aloe vera leaf and leave for an hour before inserting it into water or damp sterilized pumice to the root.
The Aloe genus has over 500 species of perennial succulents. Most species have thick succulent spiky leaves growing in rosettes. Aloes vary in size and are popular ornamental house plants.
These spiky plants should be placed in a south or west window where they can get at least six hours of sun. They grow best in full sun or bright, indirect light.
Plant relocation should always be gradual and incremental over a week or three, depending on the contrast between its current environment and intended location.
Always ensure that the soil is dry before watering thoroughly. Indoor succulents should always be grown in well-drained soil with equal parts of organic and inert materials.
Ensure the pot’s drainage holes aren’t blocked to allow water flow.
Red Aloe (Aloe cameronii)
Let’s start with the most unusual aloe spiky plant, the Aloe cameronii, a real eye-catcher with rich copper-red leaves.
The leaf color depends on the quality and quantity of sunlight and water. The red aloe spiky specimens grow red-orange flowers in the fall.
The red aloe makes a great addition to other spiky plants.
Lace Aloe (Aloe aristata)
The spiky green leaves of the lace aloe are lined with white spiky prickles along the edges. This spiky, torch plant is an evergreen succulent perennial with charming rosettes packed with fleshy, lance-shaped, incurved leaves.
The leaves are pale green if kept in low light but turn dark green in full sun. Each leaf exhibits scattered white spots, raised near the base and becoming spiny towards the tips. The lace aloe is one of the smaller specimens and only grows about a foot (30 cm) high.
Like most aloes, the leaves are lined with white spiky prickles on the margins, and the tips spike is soft. Of all the plants with spiky leaves, the aloes are my favorite, mainly for their vibrant beauty but also because they are so easy to propagate using offsets.
Barbados Aloe (Aloe vera)
Of all the plants with spiky leaves, this is probably the most recognizable name, if not the plant. Aloe vera, also known as the medicine plant, is mainly grown for the gel in the leaves.
The gel from these spiky plants’ leaves is used for medicinal properties, including moisturizing, cooling and soothing in treating superficial burns and sunburn.
This truly xeric plant thrives in dry conditions with full sun. If grown indoors, place it in a South-facing window for bright indirect light if you want it to flower. Rotate the plant occasionally to expose all sides to the sun.
As with other indoor plants, allow the soil to completely dry before rewatering and repot at least every two years. Repotting also will enable you to propagate baby plants using shoots from the mother plant.
Outdoors, aloe plants lend themselves to xeric landscapes in hot and arid conditions with taller agave plants at the back, a rockery underneath, and cascading succulents in front.
Snake Plant (Dracaena trifasciata)
Also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue, snake plants are a favorite for their mosquito-repelling ability. If you’re having a mosquito issue, the snake plant might be your answer.
The snake plant grows well in containers and is often used as a ground cover filler in interior landscape designs where it can grow up to three feet tall.
The snake plant is a low-light plant that needs only two to six hours of direct sunlight daily. Root rot is a risk, so base watering on soil moisture levels, not a schedule, and cut watering levels in winter when growth slows.
Besides root rot risks, the snake plant survives in low light, low humidity and temperatures above 50 °F (10 °C). According to a NASA study, the snake plant helps remove pollutants like formaldehyde, benzene, and ammonia from a room.
As mentioned earlier, most cacti don’t have true leaves. The Pereskia, the ancestral family of the cactus, have enduring real leaves. The prickly pear cacti family (Opuntia) has succulent spines on which the yellow flowers grow to produce tasty fruit.
The barrel cactus is a lovely plant, but to say it has spiky leaves requires you to stretch your imagination.
The Best Defensive Plantings to Protect Your Yard
While rolls of razor wire may protect your property, a better option is to use natural defensive plantings, spiky plants that can deter opportunistic trespassers. A prickly pear or firethorn hedge can make entry difficult and block any potential escape route.
This section covers plants like the firethorn, barrel cactus, Devil’s walking stick, prickly pear cacti, and honey locust. Dense bushes with spiky leaves like the dragon tree, holly plants, and spiky stem like the porcupine tomato are great deterrents to vagrant wanderers passing your fence lines.
Prickly Pears (Opuntia humifusa)
I chose the O. humifusa for its tolerance of cold weather, a feat made possible by its natural anti-freeze. Also known as the low prickly pear, the Opuntia humifusa is a clump-forming succulent shrub with pads ten inches (25 cm) across.
Covered with clusters of barbed needle-like bristles, the pads are well able to draw blood.
Scarlet Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea “Kasan’)
This thorny, evergreen, fast-growing plant with dark green leaves is a trespasser’s nightmare. The long thorns burn like fire and create an impenetrable hedge. In early spring, the hedge is covered in white flowers that spoon into small bright orange berries.
Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
Generally, the plant is about two feet tall, but as it matures, it produces offsets to form clumps that can reach six feet (1.8 m) across. Barrel cacti are best planted close together to create an impenetrable barrier among large rocks or boulders.
Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa)
Both stems, and leaf stalks are armed with stout, sharp spines. The Devil’s walking stick grows up to 20 feet tall (6 m) and self-spreads, forming thickets and an impenetrable fence line.
Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
Dragon Tree is a tough, slow-growing, drought-tolerant, spiky plant that does well in temperate climates. In their native habitat, they can reach 20 feet tall but can be pruned.
Christ Thorn (Euphorbia milii)
The Crown of Thorns is a deciduous shrub with bright green leaves and pink flowers. The plant’s historical presence in the Middle East led some to believe that the stems of this plant were used in Christ’s crown of thorns.
You should wear thick leather gloves to prevent injury when working with this shrub.
Porcupine Tomato (Solanum pyracantha)
Solanum pyracantha is a spikey evergreen shrub native to Madagascar. It may be grown as an ornamental plant, requiring warm, frost-free conditions and full sun to partial shade.
This plant should be used with care, it seeds profusely, and seedlings can grow aggressively, producing thorns rapidly.
Blue Princess Holly Plant (Ilex x meserveae)
The holly plant has many species (Ilex family), and not all have spiky leaves. The Ilex x meserveae has typical leaves often seen on Christmas cards: glossy blue-green and bright red berries.
This is a plant that truly shines in winter. The dense foliage will remain vibrant throughout the winter, strikingly contrasting with drab grays and browns.
Spiky, prickly, thorny plants for visual impact and property safety are easy to grow. I trust you found this article interesting, and I invite you to join our newsletter for more informative tips to simplify gardening for you.