Trees With Thorns in Michigan: Top 6 Common Species

Thorny trees have long been associated with deserts. Will they by any chance  thrive in Michigan – a cold Northern state? 

Clear off your cloud of doubt: my insightful list of the most common trees with thorns in Michigan promise more insights into their distinctive features and growth conditions. Keep scrolling for more!

What Are Trees With Thorns? 

trees with thorns in michigan

What Are They?

These thorn trees are known for their impressive height and prickly branches, stems, or barks.

Their barbed growths may develop in smaller clusters (which is unsurprising, considering the tree’s spiky appearance) or grow their sharp thorns singularly along the slender twigs.

Their diverse varieties range from sprawling crown acacia to shrub-like, small hawthorn trees.

As such, some people even count bushes and trees as “thorn plants” due to their jagged, spiny leaves: Oregon grape shrubs and holly trees with their leathery leaves are cases in point.

However, please note that experts only use “thorny plants’ to refer to trees or weeds with thorns, barbs, or spikes growing on twigs or bark.

Why Do Some Trees Have Thorns?

The spiky, sharp thorns have become an integral survival element for numerous tree categories for the following reasons:

  • Defenses Against Herbivores: Needless to say, thorns are among the best defensive adaptations to keep herbivores from eating barks or foliage.

Even the sharpest-teeth animal species will struggle to consume the fruits/ stems/ leaves due to the painfully pointed, piercing thorns.

  • Space and Competition Management: In certain cases, adult plants use thorns to vy for resources and growth spaces with their competitors.

Specifically, the thorns help create strong barriers, preventing nearby vegetation from shading out the tree territories or infringing on them.

  • Surviving Challenging Environments: To adapt to arid environments, trees develop thorns as a way to store water.

Thanks to the transpiration and reduced tree area, the risks of water loss significantly drop.

How Can You Identify Thorny Trees

The best way to identify thorn trees is to observe their growth characteristics. Despite sharing quite similar thorny appearances, most distinctive tree types are very dissimilar in terms of:

  • Crown
  • Flowers
  • Leaf shape
  • Height
  • Thorn length

What Are Some Common Trees With Thorns In Michigan?

black locust tree michigan

Cockspur hawthorns, Douglas hawthorns, horse chestnuts, black locusts, honey locusts, and citrus trees are the most common Michigan thorn trees.

The palpable differences in thorn lengths, flower colors, and height make them very easy for beginners to distinguish.

Cockspur Hawthorn

One can easily identify a cockspur hawthorn tree Michigan by its flat tops, red fruits, and white flowers. Other identification characteristics are as follows:

  • Their fall colors are very diverse, as the compound leaves can turn yellow, purple, orange, and red.

Meanwhile, during late summer months, the leaves enjoy a glossy, dark color and extend to three inches in length.

  • The thorns look very visible to our naked eyes, two inches long and curving downwards from the lower halves; they resemble a cock’s or rooster’s curved spur.
  • When matured, cockspur hawthorns reach 15 feet in height and 20-25 feet in width.

Despite growing slowly toward vertical directions, the tree’s horizontal growth still develops quite fast and eventually spreads wide on the top.

  • In its old age, the ornamental tree produces very dense thickets of thorns and twigs.

Though cockspur hawthorns do not require any special care, they do prefer acid, well-drained soil, and full sun.

And here is the great news: their fruits are totally digestible. You can choose to make them into crushed jelly, daily tea, or even use this edible fruit as bird food.

Horse Chestnut

Young horse-chestnut trees grow 18 inches a year to reach 60 feet in height and 50 feet in width at their complete maturity stage.

  • Horse chestnuts have thorny fruits and require shelter against the wind.
  • Their branch tips bear white flowers, whose tips grow spiny thorns and nuts once the flowers finally drop.
  • The twigs, nuts, and leaves look messy and drop frequently.

These prickly trees have great environment adaptability, but still prefer full sunlight above other living conditions.

Unfortunately, unlike its sweet chestnut counterparts, a horse chestnut is far from edible.

When eaten, it may cause serious digestive problems like vomiting, throat irritation, nausea, and abdominal pain.

Douglas Hawthorn

Also known as black hawthorns, Douglas hawthorn Michigan is characterized by thorny trunk lichens and mosses.

They grow between 3 feet (as large native shrubs) and 14 feet (as small trees), producing straight, long thorns of about one inch in length.

Their long leaves are serrated on the tips, while the fruits look black and smooth.

Strong and hearty, Douglas hawthorns thrive better in moist soil than dry. And like cockspur hawthorns, these fruits can be used for both human and animal consumption.

Unfortunately, by the time of this writing, Douglas hawthorns are suffering very high extinction risks in Northern Michigan. Authorities have been striving to strengthen their footholds in the state.

Black Locust

Black locust in Michigan enjoys thin, light branches and very strong floral fragrances.

With honey, visible thorns of 0.5 inches in width, the mature tree can grow to 100 feet in height and produce beautiful, white-petaled flowers during May and June.

Like most invasive native plants, black locust tree Michigan can thrive in any terrain – even open fields, forest openings, roadsides, and poor soil compaction.

Sadly, their flavors are not as ideal; the locust thorns, leaves, seeds, and bark contain toxalbumins, proven to be harmful to humans and livestock alike.

Honey Locust

Their mature heights range between 49 and 98 feet and can even reach 140 feet when well-maintained.

They are armed with strong, heavily branched spikes on lower trunks and branches, aided by an open, plumelike crown.

Their boles are shorter than some other siblings, divided close to the ground.

Honey locust tree Michigan has few reservations regarding growth conditions; except for dense shades, they can grow anywhere, even in cold winter months! 

Most experts do not list them as toxic plants, either, though frequent contact with their thorns might result in sore, slow-healing wounds.

Citrus Trees

A citrus tree is 10-20 feet tall and armed with very sharp twig thorns. Also:

  • Their young leaves look reddish but grow dark green as they age.
  • The yellow flowers are either solitary or clustered in groups of two or three. The buds are also reddish.

These native trees adore well-drained, loam sandy soils that contain high-quality organic matter. The better your soil preparation, the tastier their lemons turn out to be.

Keep them away from your pets, though. Their essential oils might be great for us humans, but not for the canine’s health.


michigan thorn trees

There are many evergreen trees with thorns in Michigan, but the ones mentioned on my list are so far the most famous – and the easiest to identify, too.

If you still struggle with any of their features, feel free to contact me for more advice.

Samuel Mark

Hello I am Samuel. Samuel's Garden is a garden blog where I share my experiences in garden caring and tree growth. Hope you enjoy it!

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button