plants such as cactus, euphobias, bougainvilleas, bromeliads and
crypthanthus known for
their thorns are a common sight in many gardens these days. But
despite the popularity of these plants, bought especially for their
pretty flowers, some plant sellers are openly telling their customers
that cactus thorns can be cancerous if retained in the human body.
to these plant sellers, the cactus and bougainvillea thorns are known
to be more poisonous than the thorns of other plants. However there
are mixed reactions among plant growers and sellers these days with
regard to this thorny issue as there is no scientifically proven data
so far to say that thorny plants can cause ailments and other types of
President Dehiwela, Mount Lavinia Horticultural Society, Sunila
Rajawasan, was pricked by a cactus thorn when she was 14 years old.
"I was playing with my friends and ran to catch the ball that
went towards a big cactus tree. I scraped my hand on the thorns of the
cactus" recalls Rajawasan.
to Rajawasan she didn't pay much attention to the wound and soon had
forgotten about it. Three weeks later, Rajawasan couldn't walk and
talk, and had to be taken to a doctor. "The doctor asked me if I
had any wounds and when I told him about the cactus thorn he told me I
was suffering from the last stages of tetanus. I was immediately
hospitalised and treated," says Rajawasan who had a narrow escape
went on to say that thorns from bougainvilleas, citrus plants and
cactus could be dangerous if the thorns remain inside the body.
"The best thing to do is to remove the thorn immediately"
explained Rajawasan who also said that the thorns from big cactus
trees can be more dangerous as opposed to ones from small trees.
is one of the reasons why a lot of research on plants is carried out
in foreign countries and plants are propagated in foreign countries
with fewer thorns and in some instances even without thorns.
Gemunu Wijesinghe who specialises in growing bromeliads said there was
no reason for people to worry about the thorns. "I have been
pricked by the bromeliad thorns many times while transplanting and
handling them" explained Wijesinghe.
are easy to grow and can adapt to most climates. However these plants
don't adapt to very cool climates" explained Wijesinghe.
According to Wijesinghe, bromeliads prefer rain water to pipe-borne
to Wijesinghe, a well known German expert on bromeliads who has
conducted many research programmes on these plants has said, the
thorns of the bromeliad have no connection with cancer or any other
disease. "Bromeliads unlike many other flowering plants retain
their flowers from a minimum of two weeks to eight to 10 months"
plant seller who sells plants at plant shows said he has been growing
bromeliads, crypthanthus and euphobias for the past 20 to 25 years.
"I have got scraped and pricked while growing these plants. My
arms have bled from the wounds due to the thorns of the bromeliads
quite often, but I have never had a serious problem" added the
are an imported variety of plants and come in a variety of bright
coloured combinations. "Bromeliads generally grow well if they
are exposed to 50% sun and 50% shade and are ideal to be grown on high
surfaces so that the attractive colours on their leaves are
visible" says Rajawasan.
to Wijesinghe, the crypthanthus is another type of thorny plant that
belongs to the bromeliad family. "This plant that also comes in a
variety of colours is easy to grow and is not harmful to people"
Rajawasan went on to say that the thorns on euphobias, a popular plant
in many households are not harmful as opposed to other types of
plants. However the milky substance of the plant could be poisonous to
humans," explained Rajawasan.
ideal conditions to grow euphobias are 50% sun and 50% shade.
"People should take care when growing bougainvilleas known for
their thorns. If you have bougainvilleas in your garden and get
pricked by a thorn you must remove the thorn immediately," says
to the Sunday Leader, Director National Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya,
Dr. D.S.A. Wijesundara said most plants, including many food plants in
the raw stage have lots of defensive chemicals in them.
to Wijesundera plants' defence mechanisms can be divided into thorns
and other physical means to keep grazing animals away, chemicals that
cause skin irritation in come cases and toxins that cause illness or
death if consumed.
damage skin and can even facilitate microbial infections - for
a human has an open wound this is a way for bacteria to get in, and
increases the risk of tetanus. A puncture with a thorn can push
bacteria into the body where the body is
not ready for it. The most obvious category of plants that can
cause puncture wounds is cacti," explained Wijesundera.
to Wijesundera, a helpful hint to get cacti thorns out of the skin if
you are unfortunate enough to brush against it, is to place sticky
tape or sellotape on your skin and then pull it off, hopefully taking
the glochids with them.
went on to say that in some plants it is the latex that is dangerous.
"Phorbol esters are found in the latex of euphorbia species and
research done in Germany and elsewhere has shown that E. millii has
those co-carcinogenic esters. Our local medicinal plant Euphorbia
handi) also has these esters. However one must not blow these out of
proportion as we are living in a world full of carcinogens,
co-carcinogens (cancer promoters), other harmful substances and
occupational dangers" explained Wijesundera.
to the Sunday Leader, Consultant Oncologist, Cancer Hospital
to Dr Balawardena any long lasting wound inflicted due to
whatever reason in the body, could be a cause for marjolin's
cancer. A patient may have diabetes and the wound may not heal.
This longstanding wound could be a cause of cancer," says
Dr Jayantha Balawardena said as far as he knows there is no
scientific proof that any thorny plants are cancerous.
"There are many stories that say passion fruit and
kathurumurunga leaves are cancer causing food. This is not true.
In the same way plants cannot cause cancer in a person"
explained Dr Balawardena.