So you think spring is the time of soft, green grass; brightly, colored flowers; and sweet smells. And it is. But don't be fooled. That innocent-looking garden is armed and (somewhat) dangerous. Welcome to the world of thorns, spines, and prickles.
First, a quickie lesson and/or review.
Roses don't have thorns--though many poets would have it so.
Roses have prickles. They can--with the right gloves--be scraped off. Thorns and spines, not so much.
The sharp plant bits that snag our clothes, puncture our gloveless fingers, and surprise unwanted guests are defined by their tissues rather than the pain they produce.
Thorns are modified branches: think hawthorne trees and flowering quince
Spines are modified leaves: think cacti and holly
Prickles are modified bark or skin (sort of), basically epidermal tissue: think roses
Some California Lilacs (Ceanothus spp.) have small holly-like leaves. And for most of the year, they're really all you see. But when the flowers begin to bloom, I often lose sight of the rest of the plant, and want to lean in for a better look
Ceanothus gloriosus ' Pt. Reyes'
Barberry (Berberis spp.) was one of the first new plants I encountered when we moved up here. I loved the textures and the colors; it seemed both fierce and graceful and now I have four of them.
The darwinii has these amazingly orange flowers, and, like the Ceanothus above, it has small, spiny leaves.
Berberis thunbergii 'Rosy Glow'
On the other hand, the lovely 'Rosy Glow' has smooth, soft leaves. But the spines hide underneath them.
These spines do more than frustrate the tactile gardener; they protect the plant from actual predators. Neither large animals nor small insects (with relatively large mouths) like munching or even walking through "armed" (truly, the technical term) plants. Which is probably why these particular shrubs make charming hedges for those whose neighbors are less than congenial.