The potential anti-herbivory role of microorganisms on plant thorns

Malka Halpern, Dina Raats, Simcha Lev-Yadun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thorns, spines and prickles are some of the anti-herbivore defenses that plants have evolved. They were recently found to be commonly aposematic (warning coloration). However, the physical anti-herbivore defense executed by these sharp structures seems to be only the tip of the iceberg. We show that thorns of various plant species commonly harbor an array of aerobic and anaerobic pathogenic bacteria including Clostridium perfringens the causative agent of the life-threatening gas gangrene, Bacillus anthracis, and Pantoea agglomerans. Septic inflammation caused by plant thorn injury can result not only from bacteria. Medical literature indicates that thorns, spines or prickles also introduce pathogenic fungi into animals or humans. Dermatophytes that cause subcutaneous mycoses are unable to penetrate the skin and must be introduced info the subcutaneous tissue by a puncture wound. The common microorganism-thorn combinations seem to have been an important contributor to the fact that so many plant thorns are aposematically colored, as a case of convergent evolution of aposematism in these organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-504
Number of pages2
JournalPlant Signaling and Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2007


  • Aposematism
  • Bacillus anthracis
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Herbivory
  • Mycetoma
  • Pathogen
  • Spine
  • Sporotrichosis
  • Subcutaneous mycotic disease
  • Thorn

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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