Plant Protection Can Be Dangerous. Spines and Sap Are No Joke

by | Sep 14, 2022 | 0 comments

Plants protect themselves in many ways and plant protection can be dangerous. Some have spines and some have sap. Those things are no joke.

Last weekend, I attended the combined Michigan Cactus and Succulent Society and SE Michigan Bromeliad Society show and sale. As a cashier, I saw all the plants being purchased. More than once I warned people about the glochids contained on opuntia pads.

The other cashiers and I  were stabbed more than once attempting to get the price tags out of the plants. It made me think plant protection can be dangerous. Spines aren’t the only way they protect themselves against their enemies. 

Glochids are plant protection

These fuzzy-looking cacti below are opuntias, but often called bunny’s ears. That implies to me they are soft and can be “petted”. Right? NO! These fuzzy areas of spines are hiding glochids.

What are they? The devil! That’s what they are. Glochids are small barbed spines that are tiny and hard to see. Barbed is the keyword. They stick like glue and in fact, that may be what you need to get them out of your skin.

I have read that spreading a thin layer of school glue over the glochids,  allowing it to dry, and then peeling it off, pulls the small spines out of your skin. I’ve used tape and a magnifying glass with tweezers. If you lightly brush against these plants, the glochids will get you. I speak from experience. 

Painful plant protection

I barely touched the opuntia plant, but see below what happened. These glochids are hard to see, much less remove. I use tweezers or tape. I’ve read applying a thin layer of Elmer’s glue, allowing it to dry and peeling it off, will remove them, as well. I haven’t tried that because I don’t have it in the house. It makes sense though.

glochids as plant protection
Glochids need tweezers to remove

Spines are plant protection

Other cacti spines are a bit more obvious to the naked eye and a clear danger sign. Cacti spines are painful. These water-storing plants are tempting to thirsty animals in the desert needing a drink. If they attempt to take a bite of these plants, they will not do it again.

These can also be painful to the human touch. Be careful when working with cacti. I use tongs, a strip of old carpet, or folded newspaper when repotting these plants. 

The curved spines of the cactus below can reach out and grab you!

Plant protection in curved cacti spines

But, spines can be so gorgeous!! Look at the colors below!

Don’t let fuzzy, or hairy cacti fool you. There are spines under that soft-looking fuzz.  

Stipular Spines

Stipular spines are spines that occur on succulents, called that because they have no areoles like cacti. These occur on Euphorbias and other succulents. Believe me, you won’t know the difference between those and regular spines when you bump into one! 

Plant sap is plant protection

Most of us are familiar with the Aloe vera plant that has the healing sap used when burns occur. Yet, some plants have sap that can be irritating to many people.

One family of plants that comes to mind is the euphorbias. That family includes the poinsettia that is touted to cause death if eaten. That is an old wives’ tale, but it can be irritating if touched or eaten by a pet. The euphorbia sap is a latex substance and it is imperative that is never put in your mouth and more importantly, not allowed to get in your eyes. Use gloves when repotting these plants and wash your hands well afterwards.

Euphorbia sap is plant protection
Euphorbia sap can be dangerous

Ficus Sap

Another group of plants that have an irritating sap is the fig or ficus family. When trimming my ficus, I use a small piece of tissue or paper towel to stem the flow of the sap.

It isn’t something you want on your floors or furniture. It also is latex so treat the plants with care when handling them. Gloves are a good idea.

Fius sap
Ficus sap drips when a stem or leaf is cut off


Many bromeliads also have defenses against hungry animals in the form of spines or teeth on the edge of their leaves. You can see some of those plants below which have obvious spines, yet some bromeliads have spines that are not discernable to the naked eye. If you run your hand along the edge of the leaf you will feel them. 


Plants are adept at keeping themselves safe from any form of enemy. Some do this with glochids, spines, or irritating sap. These are all things we need to be aware of when handling our plants. Being informed is half the battle. Always use gloves, don’t touch your mouth or eyes when working with plants, and wash your hands well afterwards. I’ve been taking care of plants for many years and so far with only one incident, I have been lucky. 

Have a great week, plant friends!


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