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Cactus Spines

I moved to the desert over sixteen years ago and quickly learned that almost everything in the desert tries to stick you. Yucca spikes, prickly pear cactus, and jumping cholla are just a few of the desert natives that have poked, attacked, or attached themselves to me.

Yuccas can poke a neat little hole in you, but what really gets you is the small amount of toxin in their needle-like tips. It is that mildly toxic point that will give you a burning sensation for more than a few minutes. There is usually no treatment necessary, the pain will subside soon enough.

I have rested my pack against a small cactus or accidentally brushed against a prickly pear on numerous occasions. You’ll normally find that the large spines are easily removed with a simple tug. It’s those little spines, or glochids, that are the biggest nuisance. Barely perceptible, these little buggers are the ones that you can feel when you brush your hand against your skin but can’t really spot them.

The easiest way to remove glochids is with a pair of tweezers. With a dark background and the affected area in bright light, you can usually spot the difference between your own body hair and the straight, stiff, slightly thicker glochid. Once you spot it, just pluck it with your tweezers. If you can feel it but can’t spot it, I usually use the shotgun approach. Narrow down the area and use the tweezers to repeatedly pick at the skin until you no longer feel the spine. I’ve also heard that a piece of duct tape, applied to the affected skin and then pulled off, will remove these little spines.

To propagate and spread itself around the desert the jumping cholla cactus will attach itself to almost anything that it touches. If you get too close to a jumping cholla and a piece breaks off on you or your clothing you will need to use a tool (such as two sticks – using them like chopsticks) in order to pry the cholla off without using your bare hands. If any spines break off you will have to manually pull them out using the same techniques used for prickly pear cactus. Infection is always possible, so treat these wounds accordingly.

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