Are Cactus Spines Poisonous?
No, But It Is Best To Still Be Careful

Are you wondering whether cactus spines are poisonous? Knowing more about your spiny plant can help you be careful.

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Kelly Adams

April 14, 2021

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Are Cactus Spines Poisonous?

Many of us have had an encounter with the tiny needle-like spines laced on the skin of a cactus. I remember getting pricked by one in my garden. I was highly concerned. What if it was poisonous? I was confused about the severity of the issue and was wondering what I should do ahead.

Cactus spines are not poisonous, although they can hurt. They can cause pain, but it takes little to no time for the minor injuries to heal. On the other hand, if a spine is left inside the skin, it can cause a bacterial or fungal infection. If this happens, you may face inflammation and irritation on your skin.

Why are there spines on a Cactus?

Cacti use spikes as their defence mechanism and do not need poison to protect themselves from predators.

A cactus with spines

The spines protect cacti against both wild animals and the scorching desert heat. They play a vital role in camouflage, water collection, prevention of evaporation, and production of offspring.

Purpose of the spines

1. Cactus Spines Keep Animals Away

Most animals search for food and water to survive in the arid climate of the desert. Cacti has a 90% to 94% water concentration that attracts animals like quail, kangaroo rats, sheep, and tortoises. The spines help by keeping animals away.

2. Cactus Spines Prevent Evaporation

The various spines stand close together to make clusters on the cacti skin. These clusters work together to provide shade to the succulent and act as a barrier that prevents evaporation.

3. Cactus Spines Aid Water Collection

If water droplets fall at the tip of the spine due to either fog or rain, the spine redirects them. The water droplets will then glide down to the roots. The roots absorb this water and store it for the tougher days ahead.

4. Cactus Spines Help Deal With Air Flow

More water loss occurs in the desert areas due to the intense airflow. The spine needles act as a cushion between the air and the cacti surface to moderate water loss.

5. Cactus Spines Are Crucial for Camouflage

Cactus spines come in all shades, colours, sizes, and textures to better camouflage with their surroundings. Why is this important? If a cactus can blend in with the background, it can save itself from becoming prey to another animal!

6. Specific Cactus Spines Actually Aid Propagation

The glochids or barbed bristles on the spine are the seed of the cactus. They can fly away from the plant, leading to the creation of offspring. Animals also act as a vector and help cacti expand their family. Therefore, spines are important to aid the propagation of cacti.

How to Avoid Getting Pricked?

It is best to defend yourself against those pointy spikes. Please use specialized gardening gloves, layered newspapers, tongs, and chopsticks. These tools are some of the best sources of protection that you can use while being in contact with the cacti.

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Cactus in danger!

While using a tong or a chopstick to deal with the plant. Be sure not to exert too much pressure. If you're careless with them, you can cause harm to the cactus.

A prickly cactus

While a spine pricking you shouldn’t cause too much worry; what to do if you trip on a cactus? There is a chance that some ended up piercing you in sensitive areas of the body. You should be worried, especially if glochids, tiny hair-like spines are involved. After contact with these glochids, rubbing your eyes can be dangerous.


Don't be tempted by a glochid's soft and woolly texture! The slightest touch can sign you up for a subscription of pricks and pain.

The impact can be serious, depending on the severity of the injury. Ruptures act as a pathway to both bacterial and fungal infections. Taking extra precautions is best for your safety.

What To Do If Pricked?

If it was just a prick and no needles broke, you must clean the area with soap and water. Then you may apply a bandage if you believe it is needed. However, if a spine is stuck in your skin, you have to remove it. If you can’t remove the cactus spine yourself and the pain is unbearable, rush to a hospital.

Cactus Prick Care

If a piece of the spine is stuck in your skin, you are advised to remove it as soon as possible using tweezers carefully. If you are unable to remove it, soak the area in warm water and try again.

Another technique to remove the spines involves using duct tape. Place the duct tape right on top of the spine and press it using your hands. Once the adhesive is stuck to the spine, you can remove the tape by pulling it quickly.

A Piece of Advice

Avoid pinching your skin to remove the spine. If you do so, parts of the spine might remain inside your skin.

Be Careful!

Do not scratch the affected area. It is a recipe for disaster and things might get worse.

When is Medical Help Required?

If you believe that the contact that injured you has contact with pesticides recently, you should rush to the hospital. If the pain is too unbearable and you can’t remove the spine, rush to a medical centre.

Did you fall on a cactus that recently had contact with pesticides? Are you unable to remove the spine no matter what you do? Is the affected area swollen with a rash? Don’t waste any time and consult a doctor.

The contact of pesticides with injuries can be extremely harmful. You don’t want hazardous chemicals to enter your body through the rupture, which is likely to happen if the cactus was treated with them. The chemical composition can lead to irritation and severe allergic reactions. If you believe your injury was caused by a plant treated with pesticide, get examined to avoid complications.

You plucked out the spine; if burning and discomfort begin, this might cause cysts that leave behind black spots. Similarly, if the glochid finds its way to your eyes or throat, you may be in trouble. Get medical help as quickly as possible.

Medical Help

According to a case study, an 18-year-old woman suffered a great deal after an accident with a barrel cactus. You can find details in this report about cactus spine wounds

Final Thoughts

Cactus spines are not poisonous themselves. However, it would help if you were careful around them. If they have had contact with pesticides and get injured by them, they can enter your bloodstream and cause problems. Know when to get medical help, and you’ll be good to go.

Are you interested in knowing how you can eat the fruit produced by a cactus?. Here is our guide on how to eat cactus fruit.

How to Eat Prickly Pear? Here's The Right Way to Enjoy Cactus Fruit!

Are you confused whether you can eat prickly pear or cactus fruit? Don’t worry! Read ahead to learn more about this delicious fruit!

Kelly Adams Picture

By Kelly Adams

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Kelly and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Kelly Adams Picture

Kelly Adams

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Kelly and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!



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