Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous if they Prick Your Skin?

Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?

To start off with, they’re not really thorns. They’re a special kind of plant leaves called spines. And they’re a common sight for lots of cacti. Anyway, since this isn’t some academic write-up, let’s just stick with cactus thorns.

You may have done your best to avoid them, but then again, here you are. You’ve had to bear their sharp ends. Apart from the apparent punctured skin and the accompanying irritation, you’re wondering if there is any venom involved.

Are cactus spines poisonous? Are cactus thorns poisonous?

The straight-up answer is no. But depending on the type of cacti that came in contact with your skin, effects could be far-reaching than you can imagine. That means, spine stabs can cause varying degrees of severity from just causing minor wounds that heal with time to opening avenues to serious infections, especially when left lodged in the skin for long.

So, how do you tell apart the mild from the vile cactus spines?

Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?
Macro shot of mini cactus @prof.michelematteucci

Cactus Thorns— Spikes and Glochids

Cactus thorns could be grouped into two, depending on their sizes.

For a larger part, they range from long to medium, well-attached to the plant and occur singly. For these ones, the only way of getting them off is by breaking them. And they’re the ones commonly referred to as spines.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the small, hair like structures occurring in clusters of hundreds. A slight nag at the plant will send them off. These are the glochids, common on prickly pears (Opuntia genus).

The impact of these two is inverse of their size. The bulk of their destruction lies in their individual build.

Spines have bare shafts which makes them a bit tender to the skin as compared to their smaller counterparts. Glochids, though small, can cause the most damage on your skin due to their barbed shafts and their sheer numbers. A single brush with a prickly pear could mean hundreds of them getting clamped into your skin. Ouch!

Don’t worry though. Depending on which cactus thorns you’ve had the unfortunate encounter with, the remedies below will go a long way.

Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?

Dealing with Spine Stabs

If you ever experience getting pricked, spines are better cactus thorns to get pricked by. Yeah, there is the whole issue of discomfort but it’s nothing compared to what you’ll go through in an encounter with glochids.

For most spines, dislodging from the plant isn’t very common. This really makes things easy for you if you happen to bump into them. What you’ll be left with will be a few open holes on your skin. No big deal right? Yikes!

In that case, the standard procedure for taking care of an open wound applies. Keeping the injuries clean would suffice. That’s all you’ll need to do to dodge any infections. Further, protect the wound with bandages if you’d like (pro tip: fabric bandages work best, like these fabric bandages from Band-Aid)

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Last update on 2021-10-23 / Amazon

How to take out spines in your skin from a cactus

But in the case of a spine breaking off in your skin, you’ll need to take a different route.

The first thing is removing that spine piece. If it’s protruding, try pulling it out with a pair of tweezers. You can get a pair of these specialty cactus tweezers by Wittex Germany, or you can just use a general set surgical grade tweezers. This is an easy process. Make sure to position the tweezers perpendicular to your skin surface to avoid breaking the spine any further. If you succeed in getting the intruder out, keep the wound clean and watch it heal.

What if the spine is buried too deep in the skin? A sterilized needle will do a fantastic job of getting it out. Is anyone getting queasy yet?

Treat it as you would a splinter stuck in you. After that, as usual, keep it clean.

If the worse comes to worst and you’re unable to remove the spines, consider visiting a doctor or a first aid practitioner for professional assistance. They’ll definitely be in a better place to know what to do with them spines. Sometimes it’s easier to get someone else to pull them out too if you’re a bit queasy with these types of scenarios.

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10/23/2021 03:09 am GMT
Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?

Glochids— How To Pull Them Out

These are the cactus thorns you should really fear. Yes, fear.

Remember the barbs? They grip on your muscle fibers tightly making it nearly impossible to bring them out. And of course, there is some serious accompanying irritation. They’re described as “barbed” for a reason, being closely similar to how barbed wire functions.

Before having a look at how to pull of the glochids, taking the following precautions:

  • Never try to pull out the barbed hairs with your teeth. It’s a no-brainer, actually. You might succeed in uprooting them from wherever they are but then you’re going to plant them in worse places – your tongue, gums, throat.
  •  Avoid scratching the part of incidence, whatsoever. Yeah, this is a gut reaction but for your own good, trying resisting it. It works negatively in two ways. First off, you’re going to drive the glochids further into the skin. Secondly, you could spread these little agents of discomfort to lots parts which isn’t a very good thing, it only makes your situation worse.

And now, time to pull them out. Use any of the following simple methods:

  1. Use a nylon pair of pantyhose to gently brush them off. Make sure the hand you’re using is clad in a strong pair of gardening gloves.
  2. Apply a generous amount of rubber cement on the impacted area using a piece of cotton. Allow some time for the cement to dry and pull up its edges carefully. It should come off with the glochids. Keep repeating this to remove as many of them as possible.
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If you can’t pull off any of the above successfully, arrange an appointment with a professional.

Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous?

Cactus thorns aren’t poisonous. But leaving them inside you could invite infections from other sources. Make sure to get rid of them ASAP.

But don’t get too stuck up with removing them yourself. If they keep resisting your efforts, let a medic help you out.


Whether you’re dealing with the long spines or the deceivingly-fine glochids, be sure to keep the resultant wound clean until it heals.


Did we clear up the myth about cactus thorns being poisonous? Let us know if you or someone else has been pricked by them and how you were able to get them out. Maybe let our members know how to get thorns or spines out from cacti in our Succulent City Plant Lounge.

Enjoyed learning about Are Cactus Thorns Poisonous? If so, you’ll really enjoy the ebook about Rare Succulents You Wish You Knew About. With this ebook, you’ll find yourself more detailed answers that’ll help your succulent grow even better! With thousands of succulent lovers enjoying our ebooks, you don’t want to miss out on what works the best to grow your succulents.

What Is The Purpose of Thorns on The Cactus Plant?

What is the Purpose of Thorns on a Cactus Plant?

Cacti are beautiful plants. I mean that’s why you have a few of them around, right? We’re guilty of it for sure…

But with this good look, comes the grueling task of having to deal with the thorns, or rather spines as they’re usually referred to in botanical circles. Yes, they may add to the beauty of these plants (with a variety of colors and sizes). But what if they were a bit, say, tender?

Well, if the spines existed for the sole purpose of sitting around your home just maybe that would have been possible. But we all know where they were really meant to be – out there in mostly dry environments braving the harshest of conditions.

And these spines play a huge role in this coping. They’re an adaptation that has ensured the survival of cacti out there in places where a majority of floral is non-existent.

These thorns range from the long and blatantly don’t-mess-with-us types to the small, fine and yet vicious glochids. Despite this, their functions are more or less the same.

Purpose of Thorns on Cactus Plant

Let’s get to it!

Shade by day insulation by night

A thing with desert temperatures is that they’re always swinging to the extremes – day and night.

During the day, temperatures are sky high with the shining sun. As the day wears off and the sun disappears in the opposite direction, a downward spiral in readings kicks in resulting in very cold nights.

Now, these aren’t very nice fluctuations for any living thing out there. And that’s where thorns save the day for cacti.

Their numerous number on some species adds up to form a considerable amount of cover for the plant. So, during the day, the cactus plant is safe from the scalding hot sun (and the accompanying high temperatures). During the night when temperatures are bottom low, the cactus plant is kept warm by a thin layer of air – attributable to the thorns.

Protection from predators

A known fact: there is very little vegetation in the desert. But you know what?

Still, there is a considerable number of herbivores that need food in the same desert. They need vegetation to keep going. And water, of course.

Cacti would have been great sources for both of the above. Only that they would have been extinct by now, maybe. Most of these animals wouldn’t dare touch the cacti. So, definitely they have their thorns to thank for that.

Well, it’s true that some desert animals still have a way around the spines and do manage to get a bite (pack rats, bighorn sheep, desert tortoise etc). But it’s also true that the sharp thorns have kept away lots of others from munching the cactuses out of existence. I mean seriously, would you ever want to munch on something like a cactus, talk about very painful dental visit.

Diffusing Light

Cacti are light-loving by nature. Each part has to get plenty of it for the plants to grow accordingly.

But sometimes this is not possible largely due to the style of growth of some. For instance, shrubby ones. Light is going to reach just a few stems. Well, that’s if the cactus plant was just a smooth-stemmed structure. But bless the thorns –they split up light, evenly distributing it around the whole plant.

Water traps

In fog-prevalent deserts, thorns are quite instrumental in quenching the plant. They trap enough of this fog to turn it into water droplets that later find their way down around the base of the plant.

With the shallow root system common in cacti, the water is quickly absorbed by the plant. And the cacti live on.


Air traps

As mentioned above, thorns trap air around cacti that is pivotal in the survival of the plant two major ways. Insulation is one. The other is water preservation.

The thin film of air reduces the rate of evaporation of water from the plant. As a result, very little of this water is lost to the atmosphere. In a desert setting, this is a huge deal.


Certainly not all. Especially not the large ones.

Glochids are the ones that serve this purpose perfectly in some cacti plants like Cholla.

The glochids are tiny, numerous and get easily (and firmly) attached to a passing body due to their barbed shafts. That way, segments of the plant are carried from the parent to some other place where they form new plants upon being dropped.

Wrapping Things Up

That’s how these thorns have helped cacti survive in the wild. The thorns could be pointless now, you know, with all the care these plants get as houseplants. But their prickly parts are not going away anytime soon.

Who knows, maybe they will as they spend more time in pots. But, that will definitely take a lot of years.

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