Prickly Things In The Desert Can Put A Hole In Your Plans.

The desert is an amazing place. Despite the harsh conditions, numerous plants and animals thrive there. Many plants, including cacti, bloom in the spring and summer, bringing tremendous color to the otherwise drab surroundings.

Looks can be deceiving, however. Certain plants may be appealing to the eyes, but can ruin your afternoon if you get too close. Needles on the Cholla plants, for example, can easily puncture clothing and even tires. The Yucca plant and Cat’s Claw also present hazards, and should be avoided.

The Cholla

as you might expect, is a member of the cactus family. Found throughout North and South America, it can grow up to 10 feet high depending on type. The following Chollas are found extensively in the southwestern part of the United States.

Buckhorn So named because its shape resembles antlers from a deer or elk. Its numerous stalks or arms are covered with short, stiff needles that can easily poke through clothing and skin. Photo by Lion (RIP)

Jumping Cholla. Also called the teddy bear Cholla because its many needles give it a fuzzy, huggable appearance. But you don’t want to hug one of these babies. In fact, you don’t really want to get close. The needles have a knack for jumping out at you”hence the name”and breaking off. No, this isn’t science fiction; it’s real.

Pencil Cholla. Comprised of many tall, thin stalks, these plants resemble cornstalks bundled up in fall. But don’t let the innocent appearance fool you. Those stalks”needles, actually”are razor sharp with needle-like tips.











Other plants to watch for include:

Cat’s claw. This is a vine, but it looks like a bush. Its name comes from the claw-like thorns that sprout throughout the plant. The thorns are small and may be hidden under leaves. It’s easy for your clothing to get hung up and for you to get cut up by the thorns as you’re walking by. Those things are nasty, so stay away.

Yucca plant. Though not as annoying as a cactus, the long, pointed leaves of the Yucca tree can scratch or poke pretty well. On a trip in the Baja a few years ago, one of the guys wearing shorts was jabbed. It required a bit of digging in his thigh to remove the tip of the yucca stem.










Getting poked by a needle or thorn won’t kill you. These aren’t punji sticks, but any puncture should be treated. Needles often have a tiny barb at the end. After sticking you, the needle will often burrow into your skin making it difficult to remove.

If you get stuck by a needle, carefully remove it and clean the wound thoroughly. You can get a nasty infection if you allow the wound to fester. Make sure your first aid kit contains tweezers and some antibiotic ointment.

Needles from the Cholla plants can puncture tires as well, so keep your distance. Those are handled as you would any other puncture. (see Tire Problems Shouldn’t Deflate Your Day) If the tire has been sliced open, however, you’ll need to swap on your spare.

The bottom line: When in the desert, take in the beauty and serenity of your surroundings, but keep the plants at a safe distance.

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