5 Thorn Trees You Will Find Growing in Texas

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Texas has an incredible range of plants and trees that grow there, so you can bet that some of them are thorny and gnarled.

The state of Texas covers USDA hardiness zones 6 through 10, which includes plants of many different climates.

There are lots of thorny trees and large shrubs that grow in each region of Texas and of course we can’t cover them all here.

In this short article, I’ll describe five thorny trees that can be found in various parts of Texas.

5 Trees with Thorns That Grow in Texas

1. Bodark (Maclura pomifera)

Bodark tree
Image by Karen Hine via Flickr

Bodark trees are native to Texas and to all of the southeastern U.S. region. In Texas, they’re most commonly found in the east and northeast plains, near the valleys around the Red River.

These trees grow well in wet, clay soils so they’re most often found in dense clay soils that retain water well. The land in northern TX is mostly clay soil and eastern TX has constantly moist soil, so these areas are prime for Bodark trees.

Bodark trees have a large, thick crown of branches covered in thorns that are one to two inches long. These trees were traditionally grown in long lines to form a natural fence to keep in livestock because of their thorns and dense bush.

Bodark trees have brown bark with an orange hint and green leaves that turn yellow in the fall. Their fruits look like green oranges with tons of wrinkles.

  • Other Common Names: Osage-orange, Bois-D’arc, Bodark, Hedge-Apple, Naranja de Louisiana, Horse Apple
  • Growing Zones: 5-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall by 35-45 ft wide
  • Season: Flowers in late spring

2. Sweet Acacia (Acacia farnesiana)

Sweet Acacia
Image by Anne Reeves via Flickr

These semi-evergreen trees have thorns that grow in pairs all along the branches and are about 2 inches long.

Sweet Acacia trees are also considered large shrubs, since they grow in more of a shrub-like shape than an upright tree. Sweet Acacia only grows in southern TX and doesn’t have a strong cold tolerance, so if you’re in northern TX you don’t need to worry about this one!

Sweet Acacia trees have grayish green leaves that resemble fern leaves, spreading out like a feather.

These trees can be easily identified in the spring when their flowers are in bloom. Sweet Acacia blooms with yellow, rounded flower clusters that look like puff balls!

Plus, these flowers have a very strong, sweet fragrance. The flowers used to be used by the French in making perfumes and are still added to products to add a sweet scent.

  • Other Common Names: Weesatch
  • Growing Zones: 9-11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall by 15-20 ft wide
  • Season: Flowers in spring, March

3. Jerusalem Thorn (Parkinsonia aculeata)

Jerusalem thorn tree
Image by Bill Morrow via Flickr

Despite having very thorny branches, Jerusalem Thorn trees have a gorgeous floral display that makes them a great choice for landscaping. Jerusalem Thorns are one of many flowering trees in Texas, but this one has become really popular for growers in southern TX.

These trees are often found growing in moist soils along the Rio Grande and other streams. However, they can grow up to zone 8 and have been planted as far north as Dallas.

Jerusalem Thorn trees have a large crown with branches that spread out very wide, usually as wide as it is tall, and droop down a bit- giving the tree a weeping effect.

The leaves are light green, slender, and several inches long, adding to the drooping look of the tree. The bark is dark brown and its flowers, which bloom in mid-spring as the temperatures warm, are yellow-orange and also hang off the branches.

  • Other Common Names: Retama, Paloverde, Mexican Palo Verde, Horsebean
  • Growing Zones: 8-11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 15-20 ft tall by 20-25 ft wide
  • Season: Flowers in spring

4. Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

Pecan Tree
Image by Sandy Auriene Sullivan via Flickr

Did you know that the iconic Pecan tree – the state tree– also has thorny branches? This tree is often grown in orchards or home gardens as a nut tree, but it also grows wildly all over the state.

Pecan trees can grow in almost any part of the state, as long as the soil stays moist and the temperatures don’t rise too much. They prefer rich, well-draining soil so if they’re found growing wild, it will likely be around central TX.

Pecan trees have a full, rounded crown of green leaves with thorny branches and twigs. It blooms with tiny, fluffy green flowers in the spring then the nuts mature over the summer, ready for harvest in early fall.

Because the nuts have become so popular, there are now many varieties of Pecan trees with slightly different nuts. The wood of Pecan trees is also commonly used to smoke meats.

  • Other Common Names: Pecan Hickory, Hardy Pecan, Illinois Nut Tree, Carya ‘Pecan’
  • Growing Zones: 5-9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 70-100 ft tall by 40-70 ft wide
  • Season: Flowers in spring; Fruits in fall

5. Cockspur Hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli L.)

Cockspur Hawthorn is another small tree or large shrub and it has amazing flowers. Trees like this prove that formidable, thorny trees can still be gorgeous and have a role in our gardens- not just roses!

Cockspur Hawthorn’s crown is dense and wide, with branches dipping low to the ground, forming more of a shrub shape. It has green leaves throughout the summer that turn a deep orange, almost crimson red in the fall.

It has fairly large, cup-shaped flowers that bloom in large clusters all over the tree, doing a great job distracting from the thick thorns all along the branches.

The flowers are white with a yellow center and grow very intensely when they bloom, but only last for about one week. Although not commonly grown as a fruit tree, Cockspur Hawthorn trees produce edible fruits that look like small pomegranates!

  • Other Common Names: Cockspur Thorn, Newcastle Hawthorn, Newcastle Thorn, Hogapple
  • Growing Zones: 4-7
  • Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 ft tall by 25-35 ft wide
  • Season: Spring, May

Comparing Texas Thorn Tree Varieties

VarietyDescriptionGrowing ZonesAverage Size at Maturity
BodarkKnown for its large, thick crown, branches covered in thorns, and green leaves that turn yellow in fall.5-940-60 ft tall x 35-45 ft wide
Sweet AcaciaSemi-evergreen with thorns in pairs on branches. Considered a large shrub, grows well in southern Texas.9-1120-30 ft tall x 15-20 ft wide
Jerusalem ThornWide-spreading branches with thorns, light green leaves, and dark brown bark. Blooms with yellow-orange flowers in mid-spring.8-1115-20 ft tall x 20-25 ft wide
PecanThe state tree of Texas, grows widely across the state. Prefers moist, well-draining soil.5-970-100 ft tall x 40-70 ft wide
Cockspur HawthornSmall tree or large shrub with dense, wide crown and low-reaching branches. Green leaves turn crimson in fall.4-725-35 ft tall x 25-35 ft wide

Learn to Love Thorny Trees!

These trees are just a few examples of trees in Texas that have thorns, but are still very beautiful and definitely don’t need to be avoided!

Many of these trees are loved by Texas gardeners and are great for ornamental or edible gardens.

But thorny trees have practical uses too- they’re great for creating natural privacy fences and keeping in or out animals!

It’s very common for trees in Texas to have thorns, as this is a common trait for warm weather, desert plants.

Check out Texas A&M’s Texas Tree ID to find many more native Texas trees you might find growing in your region.

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Peyton Warmack-Chipman

Environmental Politics & Permaculture Enthusiast

Peyton considers trees not just as plants that provide shade or yummy fruits, but as necessary for a healthy life and community. Peyton has done most of her research on environmental politics, but recently has shifted her focus towards actual agricultural practices, learning about ideas like agroforestry, food forests, and permaculture gardening. She's most often in the kitchen whipping something up, but otherwise can be found on long bike rides or doing research.

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