How to Remove Cactus Spines (Including Ones Stuck in Your Throat)

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Raul Puente-Martinez has been pierced by quite a number of cactuses in his time. A research botanist and curator of living collections at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, he’s been studying prickly pears and chollas, which are infamous for their barbed spines, for decades. However, the worst cholla attack he’s ever witnessed came while he was hiking with several friends in Mexico. As they strolled through a cholla forest, one of the hikers discovered a chunk of cactus stuck to the tip of his shoe. He tried kicking his foot out to dislodge the spiny hitchhiker. Sure enough, most of the cactus flew off—including one piece that shot straight up and became stuck in the man’s upper lip.

Luckily, Puente-Martinez has had a lot of practice with removing spines. “You could see that they were really deep inside his lip,” he recalls. “Every time I pulled one, there was this little stream of blood coming out of the hole; that was pretty bad.”

Most cactus encounters aren’t quite that harrowing. But cactuses are ubiquitous in some parts of the desert, not to mention their popularity as houseplants. They’ve evolved a wide variety of spines to thrive in the unforgiving desert and some can snare you more easily than others. They can also cause painful complications. So it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for a cactus crisis. Luckily, Puente-Martinez and several other cactus experts can offer a number of tips for removing spines based on their hard-won experience.



Prickly pear spines up close and personal. Photo by Raul Puente-Martinez.



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