Thorny Emergency Poses Puncture Problem


Q. I came in contact with a cactus while working. I was punctured by it and need to know if I  should be concerned. Any help is appreciated. Thank you.

A. Yes, you should be concerned. Besides the formidable tissue damage that a spine entering  your body can do, puncture wounds from plant spines can cause other problems as well. Spines  such as those found on cactus, bougainvilleas, roses and other ‘armed’ plants can carry soil  born bacteria like tetanus etc. If your wound is deep (has gone past the skin ) you should  take the same precautions as you would any dirty puncture wound -see a doctor immediately or go  to an emergency room. Cactus-like plants with spines such as the Euphorbia may also contain  irritating chemicals and can be quite painful for a period of time afterwards, and spine wounds  from certain species of Agave can cause a painful swelling in some individuals that can last  weeks.

So if your wound has broken the skin, please, see a physician immediately and pay attention to  when you last had a tetanus shot. Deep cactus spine punctures are considered ‘dirty wounds’ and  if you have not had tetanus shot within 5 years it’s a good idea to have a booster within 72  hours of receiving the wound.

When dealing with spiny plants it’s best to take several precautions. Plants with large spines  can enter your boots and pierce your feet, so when you are trimming them remember to place the  trimmings in a discreet pile that you can avoid walking on, wear boots with thick soles, and  wear thick, long sleeved shirts, gloves, and goggles. Garden centers carry long sleeved leather  gloves for pruning roses. It’s a real bad idea to trim spiny bushes or palm trees with a chain  saw, as the chain can catch a spiny branch and whip it into your face (if you insist on doing  this besides the clothing mentioned above wear a helmet with a full face, clear snap down  visor, although your neck will still be vulnerable; it would also be a good idea to take out  life insurance -using a chain saw to prune anything but large, woody branches over 3 inches thick is a real bad  idea).

Trimming and handling cactus is best done with the cactus parts to be handled or trimmed  wrapped first in thick cardboard or layers of newspaper wrapped around the stems so that the  wrapping material remains until the procedure is through. Large cactus should be trimmed with a  hand-saw. If you are moving or transplanting a cactus wrap it in a sheet or sheets of box  cardboard and use duct tape to keep the cardboard from unwrapping . Fit the cardboard so that it  has a taper below the main part of the cactus so that it does not slip out of the cardboard  sleeve when you move the cactus. You may also use tie-down straps to secure the wrapped cactus and provide a  grip for handling the plant. Wrapping the cactus in carpet will work as well as tying it up with old garden hose.


Nissl, Jan,  “Puncture Wounds” University of Michigan Health System Healthwise Knowledgebase, 1998

Cooperative Extension University of California Environmental Toxicology Newsletter, v. 3, no. 1, September 1982

 McLaughlin, John,  “Caution These Plants Might Rub You The Wrong Way,” University of Florida IFAS Extension, Urban Horticulture, 2009

Baker, David E. & Bruce E. Cutter, Basic Chain Saw Safety and Use, University of Missouri Extension, 1998.

Kelly, Jack, “How to Transplant a Cactus”, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, 2005

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© 2015 Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens

Phone: 626.821.3222

301 N. Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA, 91007

Site Design by Kirk Projects