Why Do Roses Have Thorns?

Why Do Roses Have Thorns?

Table of Contents

Ever wondered why roses are endowed with thorns? Well, wonder no more! This article explains exactly why this beautiful flower’s branches are covered with thorns and has some top tips for removing them safely, as well as some examples of flowers that closely resemble roses but are luckily thorn-free.

Do roses have thorns or prickles?

Before we go any further, we have to address the thorn in the side of the history of roses and thorns – the misconception that these flowers have thorns at all! 

You see, though it is common to call anything sharp that is attached to a stem a ‘thorn’, this is technically incorrect in the case of roses with ‘thorns’.

In fact, the pointy appendages we have scratched many a limb on are not thorns but are actually prickles.

The difference is small but important. Where thorns are modified parts of leaves or leaf stems, prickles, on the other hand, have no vascular material contained within them and instead grow externally on the plant’s epidermis. 

However, given most people refer to a rose’s prickles as thorns, for the sake of this article we will continue to use both terms interchangeably. 

Why do roses have thorns?

The function of prickles and thorns is the same – both are an evolutionary characteristic developed to protect a plant from predators. 

In the case of this particular plant, thorns exist to prevent predators such as deer and rabbits from eating them. They also do a great job at keeping bugs and insects away as they make it much harder to climb the plant’s stems.

Finally, thorns are even a purposeful deterrent for us humans, attempting to prevent us from picking their plant’s beautiful flowers and thereby damaging a lovely rose bush.

Rose with thorns meaning

The prickles on this beautiful shrub have become symbolic in popular culture and can act as a metaphor for life. They represent the difficulties that must be overcome to earn the beauty of the bloom and symbolize the idea that struggle is rewarded with harmony and happiness.

How did thorns originate in roses?

Rose thorns come from the plant’s epidermis and developed over time as an adaptation designed to protect the flowers and ensure their maximum chance of survival. 

The sickle-shaped prickles serve another function. Their shape, which serves as a kind of hook, isn’t merely to deter predators but indeed also helps roses establish themselves as a predatory species. 

The plants use their downward-curving prickles to climb over other plants, using the thorns to hook onto the branches of neighboring plants in their clambering scramble upwards. As climbing and rambling plants, thorns are important in aiding the shrub’s growth.

And of course, once roses establish themselves over other plants, they can monopolize access to sunlight and other resources, leaving the unfortunate neighbors beneath them to starve and even die.  

Flowers that look like roses but have no thorns

However if you want to avoid the risk of getting tangled up in a rose’s thorns completely, there are many flowers that closely resemble this plant that are safely prickle-free.  

Dahlias, camellias, peonies, begonias, and ranunculus are all blooms that have a similar appearance to roses and can work as a satisfying replacement. 

Rose bush without thorns

Thanks to centuries of careful cultivation, there are now many varieties of rose bushes that don’t have any prickles so you can continue to enjoy the blooms you love without the danger of hurting yourself on its thorny stems. The main groups that offer thorn-free options are climbing, heirloom, English, and Hybrid tea roses. Many of these groups are easy to grow and incredibly low-maintenance, making a perfect option for beginner gardeners.

Perhaps the most popular variety is the spectacular Zepherine Drouhin from the heirloom variety. With bright pink flowers, this climbing rose was first cultivated in 1868 and is a perfect addition to any garden’s border or gazebo.

Find out the best way to prune, trim and care for roses here.

How to remove rose thorns

For the earnest gardener or flower arranger – perhaps one enjoying the DIY monthly subscription with EnjoyFlowers – who can’t give up on their favorite, prickled variety, removing rose prickles is straightforward when done properly.

All you need is a good pair of thick gloves and a paring knife or nail clippers. Start by laying down your flowers to remove the thorns one stem at a time. 

Picking up a stem, gently run the knife – which should be as sharp as possible – along it to carefully remove the prickles. Avoid digging into the stem and wounding it.

Repeat the process with each individual stem, making sure to always keep a steady grip and the knife facing away from you.

Or you can simply leave it to the flower arranging experts, who are able to whip thorny roses into delightful bouquets in no time. With same-day delivery and affordable pricing you can’t go wrong with a big, blushing bouquet of roses from 1800Flowers, SendFlowers, or FromYouFlowers.


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