Cacti and succulents are endlessly fascinating plants.
There are so many different types, and they come in such interesting shapes that they cannot possibly fail to capture your attention and mesmerize you with their beauty.
However, the most interesting thing about a cactus is probably its spines. They are sharp and unforgiving, and the slightest of touches can give you a sneak peek into how painful they may be.
The cactus plant produces its needles as a way to protect itself from herbivores, who would otherwise eat the leaves and flower buds.
There is still no denying that cactus spines are interesting specimens and enhance the appeal of the plant immensely.
All cactus parents have at least once experienced being stabbed by one of these pointy needles. We would all like to know what to do when this time arises.
However, first, we should take a look into the purpose of these needles in the first place.
The spines and needles of the prickly pear cactus are, more often than not, very painful.
So, what do you do if you get cactus needles embedded in your skin? You can attempt to remove the needles yourself, but be warned: it’s a difficult task.
What Is The Purpose of Cactus Spines?
Believe it or not, cactus spines are modified leaves of the cactus plant. These leaves come from the modified branches of the plant, which are the tiny bumps on the stem known as areoles.
These bumps are also the cactus’ identifying features, separating them from other succulent plants.
In most other plants, the leaves are the site of photosynthesis. That is where the entire process occurs since the surface area of a regular leaf is large enough to get the maximum amount of sunlight.
In a cactus, the stem is where photosynthesis takes place as well.
They also usually grow in bright, sunny areas, so cacti don’t exactly need large leaves to capture a lot of sunlight.
Cactus spines have other purposes instead of using their leaves for energy generation like other plants.
Firstly, cactus spines can help in collecting water for the plant. The thin body helps the spine to absorb water so that it quickly reaches the stem easily.
The spines also have specialized grooves, making it easier to collect and store more water for the plant. These spines can collect water from the rain and dew in foggy areas.
Secondly, these spines also help in providing shade to the plant. Many cacti grow in very bright, sunny areas where they constantly threaten to be scorched and die.
These spines create small shadows on the stem of the cactus, which help in keeping the cactus cool.
The cactus prevents heat damage to its stem this way, and it also helps in preserving the water content in the stems with the help of these shadows.
The spines on a cactus also help in trapping air inside the cactus. Air flows evenly around plants with an even surface, and it is easy for water to escape from those plants.
However, since cacti need water preservation, the spines help break the airflow around the cactus’s surface.
This disruption in the airflow prevents water from evaporating and helps preserve the water inside the cactus.
Therefore, the spines have helped in perfecting the design of a cactus and are helping it survive in all sorts of conditions.
Another massive advantage of cactus spines is that they help keep predators away. The spines are sharp and pointy and can easily injure the skin of an animal that tries to attack the plant.
For some plant-eating animals in desert areas, cacti are one of their sources of nutrition.
So many of these animals try to get close to cacti and feed on their fleshy stems but are prevented from doing so with the help of the spiky needles protruding from the stem.
However, some cactus predators, such as the bighorn sheep, have developed mechanisms that help them chew through the cactus’ spiky needles and get to the stem.
So as the cactus evolves, so do its predators! But the cactus is a sneaky plant too.
Many cacti have spines resembling grass blades, and they can camouflage the cactus in patches with long grasses. Predators often just pass these patches by.
These are the main purposes of the needles on a cactus. These needles have enabled the cactus to survive in all kinds of harsh climates and even gave the cactus the ability to defend itself against all kinds of predators too.
What Happens If You Leave A Cactus Needle In?
We humans have decided to domesticate these desert-dwelling, spiky plants. Many of us love to keep them in our homes and decorate our gardens with their spiky, pointy beauty.
However, we humans have so far not developed any mechanisms that make us invincible to cactus spines. So many of us end up getting pricked and have painful needles protruding from our skin.
Naturally, we would wonder what would happen if we left the needle in, especially since touching it would be immensely painful!
This often happens with cactus glochids, spiky, hairy cactus spines with barbs on one end, making it very difficult to remove.
If left under the skin, Glochids could cause blisters or welts on the skin, which will be incredibly painful. Therefore you must remove the little spikes as soon as you figure out what has happened.
However, you probably shouldn’t leave cactus needles on your skin under any circumstances.
The good news is that they probably will not kill you. Even if your wound ends up badly infected, any doctor and OTC medication can help you treat it.
But yes, the wound can become infected. And if you leave the cactus needles in, the chances of the infection become even greater.
The infection will also spread to any area of your body that you touch, like if you rub your eyes or put your finger in your mouth.
This can cause pustules to appear on your skin and any areas of the body you touch after.
After healing, these pustules become black patches of dead skin that will need to be removed.
Of course, when the infection is rampant, getting rid of the needle in your skin will be that much harder.
If the cactus needle is already rife with bacteria, you can get even more dangerous infections such as a staph infection, tetany, or even gangrene.
This situation is not very likely, though. Cases of such extreme infections are rare.
But you need to be vigilant, regardless, and ensure that you remove the cactus needle from your skin as soon as you are aware of its presence.
Even if you don’t get infected, there will be some inflammation around the area where the needle has penetrated the skin.
It will make it difficult for you to move or continue your daily activities if the needle is simply left inside the skin.
There will be many cases where the needles are left under the skin, but it does not negatively affect the person!
Many of these spines come out on their own after being in the skin for a while. You will just have to keep the area clean to prevent the wound from getting infected, and then one day, the spine will come out on its own.
In some cases, since a cactus needle is organic, it can also dissolve inside your skin.
However, you would ideally want to be safe rather than sorry and remove the cactus spine from your skin as quickly as possible.
Are Cactus Needles Poisonous?
Thankfully, cactus needles are not at all poisonous. We would assume that they are since they are designed to keep predators away from the plant, but the spines are so sharp and injurious that they don’t need to have venom inside them to scare animals any further.
The biggest issue with cactus needles is that they can penetrate deep into the skin, and this could pose a huge problem when removing the spine from the skin, especially if the spine is small.
These spines can also sometimes be covered in bacteria and fungi, which can cause infections on the skin.
These infections are what concern people regarding the poisonous quality of cactus spines, but the spines don’t have anything to do with these infections.
If you have been pricked by a household cactus that you clean and care for a lot, then the chances of being infected by a dangerous bacteria are even more minimal.
How To Remove Cactus Needles?
Now, it is important to know how to remove a cactus needle. There is more than one way to remove a needle from your skin since many factors come into play, such as the shape and the size of the needle, how painful it is, how deep it is, and when the individual got pricked.
The most common methods to remove a cactus needle include:
Using A Tweezer
The easiest way to remove a needle from your skin is with the help of a pair of tweezers. This is especially effective for larger needles.
Wash the area with warm water to loosen the needle in the skin, making it easier to pull out. Disinfect with rubbing alcohol.
Simply locate the needle, hold the area of your skin with the needle taut, and slowly pull it out of the skin.
Make sure you go slowly and gently since being unnecessarily quick can end up breaking the needle while it is in the skin, making it much harder to retrieve.
Once the needle is completely out of the skin, wash the skin thoroughly with cold water and disinfect the area with rubbing alcohol and witch hazel.
This will help in further soothing inflammation and preventing infections.
Using A Tweezer And A Magnifying Glass
If your skin has been pricked by one of the smaller needles on a cactus, a tweezer may very well still work, but you will need to use a magnifying glass for more visibility.
First, you must wash the area with soapy, warm water to make it easier to dislodge the needle and loosen it.
Focus on the area with the needle using your magnifying glass, and aim the tweezer at that area. Slowly and gently pull on the needle to coax it out.
Aggressive tugs on the needle can break it further and make it much more difficult to pull it out.
Once the needle is out, disinfect the wound with rubbing alcohol and witch hazel to prevent infection and soothe inflammation.
Using Glue Or Sticky Tape
This method could be effective for multiple needs that have pricked your skin at once and penetrated inside.
Remember first to wash the skin with warm water to loosen the needles and make it easy for them to come out of the skin.
Locate the area with the needles, take some craft glue, and spread it all over that area in a uniform layer.
When the glue starts drying, press it down gently on the needles so that the needles can get attached to the glue.
Once the glue dries, gently pull it from your skin, bringing out the needles with it.
Similarly, you can also take some sticky tape like duct tape and spread it on the area with the needles.
Press on it gently to ensure all the needles have securely adhered to the tape. Then, gently pull the tape back, and you will see the needles follow along.
You might leave a few needles behind with this method, and you can remove the remaining needles with the help of tweezers as well.
Pantyhose And Brush Method
Take some pantyhose and spread it on the area with the needles. Then, take a brush and brush over the pantyhose in one direction repeatedly.
You will watch the friction from the brush, and the pantyhose bring out the needles. You must remember to move the brush in only one direction, though.
Most of the needles can come out of the skin with the help of this method, and you can remove the remaining needles with the help of tweezers as well.
Are All Cactus Spines Harmful?
Cactus spines are usually not harmful. The most harmful ones can include glochids, especially since they are also difficult to remove.
However, none of the cactus spines can cause extreme reactions in the body and the skin, and the worst you might have to suffer from could be a minor infection.
That being said, you need to be wary of cactus needles that are dirty, dusty, or have pricked you in the wild.
These can cause inflammation and relatively bad infections as well. If a cactus have pricked you in the wild, you will want to thoroughly disinfect the wound as quickly as possible to prevent it from getting infected.
So all cactus spines can injure you in some way or another, but none of them is poisonous or harmful in any other way.
Once you have removed the spine from the depths of your skin and disinfected the wound, it will likely heal up quickly on its own.
How To Prevent Being Pricked By A Cactus?
We could avoid all of this unpleasantness if we would just prevent being pricked by a cactus in the first place.
Firstly, always remember to wear gloves. Wearing gloves is the first and foremost way you can prevent being pricked by a cactus.
Thick gloves are ideal since you will not be able to feel the spikiness of the cactus through the thickness of your gloves as well.
Remember to wear your gloves when handling the cacti in your garden or when you are going to inspect wild cacti in nature.
Other than that, it would help if you practiced vigilance as well. Make sure you do not touch a cactus carelessly, and you don’t underestimate the sharpness of its needles.
Even when you are watering the cactus or repotting it, make sure you do not hold it carelessly.
Another way people often get cactus pricks is when they fall on a cactus when it’s dark.
This is a common occurrence at house parties where people can easily get drunk and are unable to watch their steps.
If you are the host, you can ensure that all the spiky plants are out of the guests’ way or guide them through the garden, so they do not fall on the cacti and injure themselves.
There’s only so much one can do to prevent being pricked by a cactus!
Cactus pricks are a very common phenomenon and cacti developed these needles as a means of survival in very harsh conditions.
Therefore, you probably cannot get rid of the spines of a cactus, and you shouldn’t do so either.
However, you can ensure that you remove the needle safely and effectively from your skin if you have been pricked and clean the wound thoroughly to prevent any infections as well.
Cactus needles are extremely sharp and poisonous. To cut these needles off correctly, use a pair of sharp, heavy scissors.
Gently pinch the barbs on both sides and pull upward. Don’t worry, you won’t suffer any permanent effects.
Stay vigilant, and we can assure you that cacti are some of the best plants in your garden!
Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)
Can cactus needles cause Infection?
According to Mayo Clinic, while cactus needles may irritate, infection is rare.
Do cactus needles dissolve in the skin?
For cactus needles to dissolve in the skin, they would have to have enough water that they dissolve, and at the time the skin would be exposed to cactus needles, the skin would be dry.
Do cactus needle wounds heal themselves?
No, cactus needles do not heal themselves, therefore, you must treat the wound.
Can you get an infection from a cactus needle?
Yes. It is possible to get an infection to any part of your body by touching a cactus needle such as cactus spines, leaves, or needles. It is recommended to wear proper gloves during working on Cactus.