Spines, spikes, and prickles

There are so many plants in our garden that beg to be looked at more closely. Often I'm simply too lazy to get out my macro lens because it typically involves putting the camera on a tripod. But afterwards, I'm always happy that I went to the extra trouble. This post is proof of that. It features close-ups of a variety of spiny, spiky, and prickly characters in the garden. Many are cacti and agaves, but not all of them. In fact, there are a few surprises.

I enjoyed this exercise so much that I will do my best to keep at it. Hopefully, I'll have more close-ups for you soon.

Note: The photos below are loosely arranged by color, not by genus and species.

Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum), not a succulent at all, but a type of thistle native to most European coastlines. Mine (from Xera Plants in Portland, OR) grows happily right alongside agaves and aloes. And yes, the leaves do prick you when you touch them!

Dyckia marnier-lapostollei, arguably one of the most beautiful Dyckia species. In this photo, you can clearly see the trichomes, the white dandruff-like cells covering the leaves. Their function is to protect the plant tissue against sun damage and to collect and conserve moisture. (Here is an easy-to-understand explanation.)

On the older leaves of this Hechtia 'Silver Star', the trichomes have partially worn off. The teeth along the margins, on the other hand, are as formidable as ever.

Speaking of formidable, check out the teeth on my Puya coerulea var. coerulea. The hooked tooth in the upper third of this photo is particularly efficient at grabbing you and not letting go.

On this Agave chiapensis, one of the newly emerging leaves is literally stuck inside another leaf, causing the bend you see above. I'm not going to intervene because I want to see what will happen.

Agave nickelsiae with the classic black terminal spines, typically one longer one in the middle and one or more shorter ones on either side. In contrast, the related Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) only has one terminal spine

Agave bovicornuta with its characteristic cinnamon-colored teeth—or should I say hooks?

Agave bovicornuta 'Holstein', a beautifully variegated selection of the cow horn agave. The teeth are the same color as the regular species.

Agave 'Chisum', a hybrid between Agave pablocarrilloi and Agave colorata

Agave ×leopoldii, a hybrid between Agave filifera und Agave schidigera, two closely related species, created in England in the 1870s. It's much smaller than either parent, but it does have the signature curling threads along the leaf margins. The terminal spine is short, but plenty sharp.

Agave parviflora, an even smaller species (up to 8 inches wide) with similar peeling threads along the leaf edges

Ferocactus herrerae, as soon from the top

Close-up of the curved central spines on Ferocactus herrerae. They are completely rigid and can grab you if you get too close.

In contrast, the spines on Tephrocactus aoracanthus var. paediophilus are mostly bite and no bark. They're very long and papery and hence fairly harmless. However, as members of the Opuntioideae subfamily, Tephrocactus do have tiny glochids around the areoles—just like prickly pears.

With Echinocereus engelmannii, what you see is what you get. The spines go straight in and come straight out.

Echinocereus yavapaiensis is a fairly recently described claret cup species (2006) native to Yavapai County in north-central Arizona. The flowers are small but numerous and simply beautiful.

Ferocactus chrysacanthus, a golden-spined barrel cactus from the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur. The new spines in the center have the most vivid coloration. In this photo, they look like a bird's nest.

Old Man of the Mountain (Oreocereus trollii), one of several similar cacti from the Andes. The fluffy white hair offers protection from the intense sun at high altitude. It's very tempting to pet these friendly fellows, but they are armed, as you can see above.

Hechtia 'Wildfire', an Andy Siekkinen hybrid between Hechtia texensis and Hechtia stenopetala. Its color varies between fire engine red in the winter and orange and red in the summer, but it's always a standout.

Dyckia 'Snaggletooth', a 2nd generation seedling of this sought-after hybrid. Usually, the colors are more muted—silver and dusky purple—but the recent heat has amped up the saturation.

×Mangave 'Red Wing', just a hint of teeth along the leaf margins and short terminal spines

Agave × romanii 'Shadow Dancer', a dwarf hybrid between Agave filifera and Agave mitis var. albidior. Much smaller than either parent and without the curly leaf threads of A. filifera, but sporting well-formed terminal spines.

Agave 'Baccarat', collected in 1997 by Wade Roitsch of Yucca Do Nursery in madrone-pine-oak forest near La Encantada in southwestern Nuevo León at about 9000 ft. elevation (source) and originally thought to be a form of Agave montana but now considered a naturally occurring intermediate form (intergrade) between Agave gentryi and Agave montana. In the photo above, you can see how the teeth of the leaf tightly wrapped about the central cone has created the characteristic imprints.

Agave 'Blue Glow'. OK, no spines, spikes or prickles visible in this photo, but the glowing leaf margins are spectacular.

×Mangave 'Crazy Cowlick', a cheery-looking hybrid involving Agave bovicornuta. Nowhere near as formidable as its agave parent, but the teeth can still scratch you if you get too close. 

×Mangave 'Iron Man' has inherited the teeth and bud imprinting tendency from Agave montana, one of its parents

Acacia aphylla is very different from all the plants above, but it can hold its own when it comes to spikiness. Since it's leafless, as the species name indicates, the intricate zig-zag of the branches is always visible.

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  1. Awesome photos. Love the detail that comes with the macro especially the shadows from the thready Agaves.

    1. Agreed! That's why it's best to put the camera on the tripod to get maximum detail.

  2. You're right - the macro shots give new depth to the fascinating qualities of the wonderful plants in your ever-growing collection.

    1. A drone with high resolution would be nice, too, so I could have close-ups looking down.

  3. I just brought home a little Ferocactus chrysacanthus from Oscar, so I especially appreciate that closeup, but all of them are fabulous in their own unique way. And giving some back story makes it even more enjoyable -- glad you've gone macro!

    1. I love find out more about the plants I grow and I'm happy to share what I learn.

  4. Gorgeous photos. Thank you for getting the tripod out.
    I love seeing Agave 'Baccarat' up close and the explanation of how the 'tire-tracks' pattern is formed.

    1. 'Baccarat' is such a beauty. I've never understood why it isn't more common in cultivation. It *is* a slow grower, maybe that's why?

  5. You're speaking my language! I love them all and was hoping you'd include Agave nickelsiae because of the tri-tip and Agave bovicornuta because I love it when those orange spines/horns face back at each other like a set of cow horns.

    1. LOL, this post definitely warrants a "danger" label!

      I love the Agave nickelsiae tri-tip spines, too. The color is so intense!

      I forgot to include Agave albopilosa. Those cute tufts hide sharp terminal spines!

  6. I'm glad you took one for the team and lugged out the tripod..you got some great shots ! I endlessly complain to myself that my photos aren't sharp enough , knowing that all I would have to do is set up the tripod, but I just can't seem to get in the habit.

  7. Another person here also neglectful of the macro lens and tripod. Perhaps we are so quick to get out in the garden to take some pix, even the literal minute it takes to change the lens and grab the tripod is too long.

    1. I'm going to experiment with a monopod. Maybe that's an option that suits me better...


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