I had always thought cacti had spines for defense, but it turns out they serve a variety of other purposes and are quite extraordinary adaptations. In a variety of intriguing ways, they aid cacti in surviving the challenges of desert life.
The purpose of cacti’s spines By serving a variety of purposes, spines enable cactus to survive and even thrive in arid settings. They shield the plant from predators, offer shade, aid in temperature control, lessen water loss, and even encourage the plant to spread and procreate.
Continue reading to learn more about how cactus use their spines to help them survive and grow in the harsh environments where they reside.
Why are cactus prickles present?
The cactus family is known for its prickly spines, which are actually altered leaves. The kind of leaves that a maple or oak tree has are not present on cacti. But in the distant past, they might have had leaves that were at least somewhat more similar. Due to the fact that they aid the plants in surviving in hot, dry situations, those leaves eventually changed into the prickly spines we see on cactuses today.
“They could serve as a defensive strategy to prevent herbivores, or animals that consume plants, from consuming the cactus. But spines also produce shade! “Kimberlie McCue says.
“When you are covered with spines, those spines are throwing shadows on the cactus’ body as the sun moves across the sky. They are tiny umbrellas for shade.”
All cacti are native to arid regions, and some can even survive in dry climates. How do they acquire water to exist, then? Kimberlie informs us that these plants can be found close to the water.
“There will be fog coming off the ocean in the morning. Water condenses on those spines, forming tiny droplets, which then flow down the spine, to the plant’s body, to the soil, and to the roots.”
As they hold the soil in place and offer shelter to birds and other creatures, cactuses are also crucial components of their desert ecosystems. In exchange, such animals and birds assist in pollinating the cactus flowers. Cacti are a significant local source of food for people.
Cactuses are unfortunately threatened by people who illegally steal natural plants from their surroundings. According to Kimberlie McCue, being cautious when purchasing cactus plants is one method to ensure that cacti remain healthy and numerous. Before you buy, find out where the cactus came from and confirm that the vendor is being a responsible steward of these plants.
Why do cacti lack leaves in favor of thorns?
Why do cacti differ from other plants in having thorns instead of leaves and a thick, meaty stem?
The appropriate choices are A The cacti can hold more water as a result. Water would be lost because of broad leaves. In the desert, you can find thorny shrubs and cactus. Their thick, fleshy stems allow them to hold more water for a longer period of time. In addition, plants in the desert have thorns rather than leaves because big, broad leaves would make water evaporate quickly. Water moves through a plant during transpiration, and it evaporates from aerial parts including leaves, stems, and flowers.
What happens if you get pricked by a cactus?
Cactus spines are modified leaves that resemble needles. Cactus may lose less water in hot and arid environments because of its needle-like adaptability. Additionally, they give out some shade and are a fantastic deterrent to animals that might try to eat them.
Some cactus feature camouflage-producing spines, which further helps to defend them from predators who could try to consume them. Less light reaches the stem of the plant because the cactus spines reflect light (reducing water loss).
What types of cactus spines are there?
Various cactus plants may have one of a few different types of cactus spines. Some spine types could be more difficult to remove and hurt more when pricked. Types of cactus spines include:
- tiny, hair-like spines (such as in genus of Cephalocereus)
- Stiffened spines (such as in Mammillaria gracilis)
- rounded spines (such as in Sclerocactus papyracanthus)
- Glochids (such as in Opuntia rufida)
- bent spines (most cacti)
One of the sorts of cactus spines that causes the most discomfort is the glochid. This is due to the glochids’ brittleness and easy skin-breaking. This makes removing them from the skin extremely difficult.
This also applies to cholla or barbed spines. They are extremely painful and easily penetrate skin and soft tissues. These cacti belong to the Opuntioideae subfamily, which also includes Chollas and Cylindropuntia.
Because they adhere to flesh, clothing, and fur with ease, cholla cacti are sometimes known as jumping chollas. They must be carefully removed from the skin since if done by hand, they would cling to the fingers.
What do a cactus’ spikes represent?
a species of Opuntia with glochids and spines. The glochids are the tiny prickles at the center of the bunches, whereas the spines are the relatively big, radiating organs.
Glochids, also known as glochidia (plural “glochidium”), are small, usually barbed spines or prickles that are present on the areoles of cacti belonging to the Opuntioideae subfamily. Glochids from cacti quickly separate from the plant and ensnare in the skin, irritating it when they come into touch. Some cactus species have tufts of glochids in the areoles that nearly completely cover the stem surfaces, with each tuft containing hundreds of glochids. These tufts may exist in addition to or in place of the larger, more noticeable cactus spines, which are typically not barbed and are difficult to detach.
Why are cacti so uncomfortable?
Anyone who has come into contact with a jumping cholla cactus can attest to the fact that it is both excruciatingly painful and challenging to resolve because the cactus’ spines are notoriously difficult to remove.
Cactus spines have a variety of purposes, including defense and the storage of essential water in arid regions, although some are considerably more difficult to remove than others. Researchers have now determined the cause.
The function of the spines, particularly their capacity to pierce animal skin, was tested by Stephanie Crofts and Philip Anderson of the University of Illinois on six different cactus species. Their findings, which were reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, demonstrate that the microstructural characteristics that enhance a spine’s capacity to pierce flesh also raise the barrier to removal.
With their shingled, overlapping barbs, cholla and other barbed cactus spines in particular resemble porcupine quills. Compared to non-barbed spines, these barbs more easily pierce and entangle flesh.
According to Anderson in a news statement, “The barbs grab on your muscle fibers, making it tough to remove them.
The two also experimented with golden barrel, brittle prickly pear, and a few other common cactus species in addition to jumping cholla. They pierced skinless chicken breasts, hog shoulders with the skin still on, and a succession of rubbers with various densities to determine the structure of each plant after studying the spines under a scanning electron microscope to learn more about it. According to their experiments, barbed spines function as razor-sharp blades that may readily pierce skin.
According to Anderson, the cholla spine needs to be able to penetrate the target with just a mild brush in order to puncture the target efficiently. ” It must also be quite challenging to remove at the same time.
An up-close look at a Cholla spine reveals its overlapping barbs, which make removing these spines more challenging and unpleasant. (Credit: Wikipedia/Nebarnix)
Stuck On You
Barbed spines, like cholla, emerged out of the chicken breasts with a tissue-coated exterior. The researchers believe that some of the barbs were left behind in the flesh because they did not emerge clean from the pork samples.
The plains prickly pear’s spines checked out took the most effort to remove from chicken breasts. On the other hand, cholla spines proved to be the most difficult to extract from pig tissue; tests revealed that one cholla spine was capable of hooking into flesh with sufficient force to lift half a pound of pork by the skin.
That’s both quite frightening and clever. Cholla spines also have a reproductive function. Chollas have spines that hook onto a person or animal’s muscle fibers so strongly that it frequently tears off a piece of the cactus, which is then moved to a new area and can start growing as a new plant.
Cactus Spines Overview
The Southwest features a cactus with those thorny spines that carry a sharp punch, which is your enemy when hiking there.
I adore cacti and am frequently spotted on the trail taking pictures of them, especially young barrel cacti.
However, despite how “cute and “beautiful they are, a slip or a brush against one can result in some discomfort. Or the severe discomfort a woman had in Sedona after falling into a large area of cacti that lodged their “needles all over her body Four of us were using tweezers to assist her in getting rid of them.
The two different kinds of “thorns” or “needles” on cacti are called glochids and spines.
The enormous spines are “cactus needles that can be easily seen with the naked eye from a distance of a few feet.
This is the “Good ones are the ones that are the simplest to get rid of. In some cases, you can remove the spines by yourself rather than using your cactus first aid kit.
If you decide to remove a spine by hand, proceed with extreme caution to avoid pushing it in or breaking the spine, both of which will make the process more difficult.
Glochids are the needles that resemble hair and that you can see when you are close to a cactus. Because they are so small, they may be difficult to see, and they may enter in groups, these are the ones that can be the most difficult to remove “Normally, needles include a barb, which makes it challenging to remove them.
DO NOT attempt to manually remove glochids! Tweezers or a combination of tweezers and a pair of tweezers should be used to remove this “putty patch
A microscopic focal stack of 21 images of a cholla cactus spine reveals the barbs that make removal agonizingly painful.
How Do You Treat Cactus Wounds
Once all of the spines or glochids have been taken out, clean the wound well and apply an antibiotic ointment. Try to wrap the places with a bandage, gauze, and tape if you have them, especially if you’re in a “dirty location.”
If your wound(s) are itching or in discomfort, use your best judgment when choosing a medication and think about utilizing a topical solution and/or an over-the-counter choice like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
What Happens if You Leave a Cactus Needle In
What goes in must eventually come out. If that tiny pimple appears at the site of the cut, it might unfortunately be a painful process. Typically, that indicates that it has reached the surface of the skin, and you should be able to get rid of it by carefully pressing the pimple out with your fingers after emptying it.
Are Cactus Needles Dangerous
Although cactus spines are not toxic to people or animals, if they are left in or are not properly cared for, there is a potential that the wound area will become infected.
There is a possibility that something on the spine, such germs, might possibly result in an infection.
How to Remove Cactus Spines
Use a pair of needle-nose tweezers to remove as many spines and glochids as you can if you are unable to remove them by hand. If there is any Elmer’s Glue remaining, spread it over the affected area and cover it with gauze while it dries, which takes around 30 minutes.
Because it can be used for so many different things, like fixing malfunctioning equipment temporarily and mending torn clothes, duct tape is a particularly useful tool to bring in your backpack. I keep a little roll in my rucksack and a small quantity attached to my hiking poles.
Forcep Tweezer With Pointed Tips
When you need to remove spines and glochids precisely, tweezers with pointy tips are more useful than those with slant tips.
You can purchase them online or in the beauty section of your preferred retail establishment.
Finding a “combo kit with sharp tip tweezers and a magnification is something I advise.
Tweezer With Magnifier from Amazon, REI, and Walmart can be seen in the combo set from these online merchants.
Lighter or Matches to “Disinfect the Items
It’s advised to keep a tiny lighter on hand at all times in case you need to start a fire or clean the tools you’ll be using to remove the spines in an emergency.
Learn more about the 10 Essentials for the Southwest Hiker to bring in case of emergencies.
This is one of the most frequently advised methods for removing cactus spines and glochids when used in conjunction with gauze.
Because it’s so difficult to locate little bottles, I always take a 4-ounce bottle about with me, even though it’s bigger than I need. Amazon is the only place I could discover to buy them. View the Elmer’s Glue-All 1.25 ounce container.
I’ve only used Elmer’s Glue-All, the “all-purpose kind,” not the kid-friendly washable variety.
Since we typically don’t bring soap and water to keep our hands clean, this is a challenging one to undertake while hiking.
We will rinse the area with water from our hydration bladders to get rid of any debris.
Disinfecting Items With Fire
Heat your instruments with a lighter until the metal becomes red for the quickest and most effective way to “disinfect” them. Once it gets red, let it cool and then begin the removal process of the intrusive object (s).
If you don’t have a lighter, see if you have alcohol wipes in your first aid box.
Antibiotics and Antihistamines
Most people advise keeping antibiotics in your cactus first aid kit, but we go a step further and recommend including an over-the-counter antihistamine to help with any reactions you might have to the unpleasant skin invader.