Are Cactus Spines Poisonous?
Not really, but it is best to be on guard

NO! The spines on the cactus are not poisonous. If you leave them inside the skin, they irritate and cause a rashed as a reaction to toxins. It also opens a ground for bacteria and fungus to grow. Your first step is to pluck the spine from the skin. If you face difficulty, it is best to get it treated.

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Jimena Bolívar

April 14, 2021

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Are Cactus Spines Poisonous?

We have all have had an encounter with the tiny needle-like spines on the skin of a cactus. I remember getting prickled by one in my garden. I was concerned. What if it was poisonous? What to do now? Will it heal on its own? I bet you are having similar thoughts.

Just Relax! Cactus spines are not poisonous, although they can be damaging. You might experience pain even though it takes next to no time for the minor wounds to heal. On the other hand, if left inside your skin, a spine might cause bacteria or fungus infection leading to inflammation and irritation.

Cacti having spikes as their defense mechanism do not need poison to protect them from predators.

A cactus with spines

Why are there spines on a Cactus?

The bristles protect the plants against wild animals and sweltering heat. It also plays its role in camouflaging, water collecting, preventing evaporation, and producing offsprings.

Purpose of the spines

1. Keeps Predators Away

In the desert heat, most animals search for food and especially water for survival against the dry climate. Cacti is 90-94% water that attracts animals like quail, kangaroo rats, sheep, and tortoises. The spikes play their role here by keeping these herbivores away.

2. Prevents Evaporation

A million barb standing close together make clusters on the skin that resembles a forest, providing shade for survival against the intense hot climate. This shade acts as a barrier to evaporations.

3. Water Collection

On a foggy day, when the water droplets fall at the tip of the spine, It then glides down to the roots. The roots absorb the water storing it for the hard days.

4. Helps with Air Flow

Water loss is a lot more in desert areas due to the intense airflow. The needles create a cushion between the air and the surface to moderate water loss.

5. Camouflage

Cactus spines come in all shades, colors, sizes, and textures to better incorporate with its surrounding. They also help as a camouflaging from the life form that can harm the plant.

6. Propagation

The glochids act like the seed of the cactus. They fly away from the plant, giving birth to offsprings. Animal also acts as a carrier for the spine, helping them expand their family.

Avoid getting pricked

It is best to defend yourself against those pointy spikes. Using specialized gardening gloves, layered newspaper, tongs, and chopsticks are some of the best ways to be protected while being in contact with the prickly fellow.

Cactus in danger!

While using a tong or a chopstick to deal with the plant. Be sure not to exert too much pressure; it is harmful to the cactus.

A prickly cactus

A spike poking you is not a big deal. Do you happen to trip on a cactus? Then there is a chance that some might ended up getting to the sensitive areas of the body, especially if it’s glochid, tiny hair-like spines. Rubbing your eyes or even putting a finger in your mouth after contact is quite dangerous.


Does a glochid's soft and wooly texture invite you to give them a good rub? Hold right there! The slightest touch can get you a handful of painful pricks.

The effect can be huge, depending on the kind of rupture. It can be a pathway to severe infections. Taking extra precautions is best for safety.

If you get pricked

If just a prick and no needles broke, all you have to do is clean the area with soap and water, apply a bandage if you feel a need.

Cactus Prick Care

On the other way, if a piece of spine broke inside your skin, you are advised to immediately and carefully remove it using tweezers. If you can not remove it, soak the area in warm water and try again.

Using duct tape is another way to get the spine out. Place the duct tape right on top of the prick and press it using tender hands. Remove the tape by quick pulling.

If the spine is stuck deep in the skin, you can use a thin needle, sterilize it and use it to pull the leftover out. At this point, if you are still unable to remove the spine. It is best to get professional help.

A piece of advice

Hold back from pinching your skin to remove the spine. This way, parts might remain inside your skin.

Be Careful!

Do not scratch the affected area. Things might get worse.

When is medical help required?

Did you fell on a plant that got treated with contact pesticides? No matter what, the spine doesn’t come out? or Is the area of contact swollen with a rash? It is best to consult a doctor.

Contact pesticides can be extremely harmful if it gets absorbed through your skin, which is likely to happen if the cacti spike got a treatment. The chemical composition can lead to irritation and allergic reactions. If that is the case, get examined to avoid any 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, get medical help as quickly as possible.

Medical Help

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

Dangerous, but not poisonous

Cactus Spine is not poisonous or fatal, but they sure are risky if one gets stuck inside your skin. In such a case, it is best to consult someone with experience instead of trying yourself again.

You might be searching for ways to consume a cactus, especially the prickly pear, after knowing how destructive they can get. Here is our guide on How to eat a cactus fruit?

Jimena Bolívar Picture

By Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena 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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Jimena Bolívar Picture

Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena 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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