Glochids

Or glochidia, if you prefer. Either way, you don’t want to get up close to them.

I should know better. I’ve encountered them before. And I did again yesterday.

Perhaps you’ve been similarly distracted: trying to get the photo, focussing, inching closer, twisting, almost there — then, gotcha!  Not the photo, but a sharp reminder that you’ve kissed a cactus.

No, not those long spines (though they’ll also cause you anguish). Glochids are tiny little hairs that grow on several members of the cactus family, including this Christmas cactus.

Glochids are small but they pack a punch. They’re so easily dislodged you may not even know you’ve been ambushed until the itching and pin-pricky feeling starts.

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The hairs have tiny backward projecting barbs (like miniature porcupine quills) that quickly embed themselves in your skin. It’s lighter than a pin prick but much more annoying — especially since when you look at your skin you usually don’t see anything.

Glochids occur on both the fruit (the red “berry”) and on regular stems. Although they occur in clumps, them seem to embed themselves individually, making it almost impossible to see them. In my experience only the tip enters the skin, leaving 1 or 2 mm on the outside.

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The web has lots of suggestions for removing glochids, from hot wax to Elmer’s glue to duct tape. If the glochids have set up house on a area of your skin with hair, these options seem designed to cause collateral damage.

Me? A pair of tweezers, excellent up-close eyesight and good backlighting (assuming you haven’t fallen into the patch from hell). Alternatively (and if the glochids are in numbers beyond counting) soap, warm water and a rough cloth will do the job.


Christmas cactus (aka Desert Christmas cactus)   Opuntia leptocaulis (aka Cylindropuntia leptocaulis 

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4 thoughts on “Glochids

  1. Ah, yes. Even my so-called “spineless” prickly pear has glochids, and they are sometimes even more irritating than the spines. Another trick I’ve used comes from the boating trade, where embedded fiberglass can be a problem. Rubbing the area with an old nylon stocking will do the trick. Of course, old nylon stockings aren’t as common as they used to be, but i bought a pair just to deal with fiberglass, and learned later they’ll do for glochids.

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    1. Ah, clever woman! I imagine a man is more likely to think of duct tape than pantyhose — your idea sounds much less painful. 🙂

      Just after posting that piece I got ambushed again by Christmas cactus. This time by the spines. At least that was over and one with quickly, no tweezers needed.

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