Cacti are a part of the desert. Cacti are also found as ornamental plants throughout cities, gardens and houses. The cactus family is a native of the Western Hemisphere, and though normally considered to be a desert plant, it survives in a variety of terrains and climates. In the United States, the cactus is a prominent part of the natural vegetation only in the deserts of the Southwest.
Infection of cactus spine punctures is rare. Some experts believe that spines of native cacti in the desert are sterilized by the intense and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation. This has not been proven. Infection has occurred in cactus spine injuries in non-coastal areas of Mississippi where cactus have fungi.Cactus spines can be classified into four simple categories: long, medium, small and very small.
Some cactus can grow spines as long as 6 inches. Spines from a barrel cactus lack barbs, are resilient and do not break off readily. The resulting wound is usually a clean puncture.
Cacti with medium spines can be divided into two groups. The first group includes the spines of the giant saguaro and barrel cacti. These spines are straight, tough and smooth; and can penetrate as easily as a steel needle. They do not break readily.
Small and very small spines
The greatest problem in cactus spine removal is posed by the myriad very small spines of a plant known as the "polka dot cactus," or "bunny's ear cactus." These are profusely barbed and can occur in clusters of 100 to 200 spines or even more. Each spine is tiny, translucent and yellow or white, making it very difficult to locate.
Removing cactus spines
Cactus spine removal is tedious and frustrating because cactus spines are usually acquired in bunches, they are difficult to see and they are designed by nature to resist removal. Usually spines can be easily, but tediously, removed with tweezers.
Another method for removing large numbers of spines is to coat the area with a thin layer of white woodworking glue or rubber cement, and allow it to dry for more than 30 minutes. The dried glue is slowly rolled up from the margins. If the glue is applied in strips rather than puddles, the rolling procedure goes more smoothly. A single layer of gauze gently pressed into the still-damp glue helps its removal after it has dried. Using tweezers and glue will remove 98 percent of the spines.
Some have suggested applying adhesive tape, duct tape and Scotch tape because it is quick and easy. This removes only 30 percent of the spines even after multiple attempts.
Super Glue is totally unsatisfactory for cactus spine removal. Not only does it fail to roll up when applied to the skin, it welds the cactus to the skin and it risks a permanent bond of the skin to anything it touches.
When venturing through cactus country, include tweezers and some white woodworking glue in your first aid emergency kit. You never know when you might need them.