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Opuntia microdasys forms a dense shrub 40–60 cm tall, occasionally more, composed of pad-like stems 6–15 cm long and 4–12 cm broad.
Opuntia microdasys has no spines, but instead has numerous white or yellow glochids 2–3 mm long in dense clusters; these glochids are barbed and thinner than the finest human hairs, detaching in large numbers upon the slightest touch. If not removed they will cause considerable skin irritation, similar to small electrical discharges, so the plants must be treated with caution. Despite this, it is a very popular cactus in cultivation.
Glochids should be removed as soon as possible, before the onset of contact dermatitis which may persist for months if left untreated.
To minimize the potential misery, keep your hands wet while dealing with any plant with glochids like this.
The water on your wet skin softens on contact the tips of the very fine glochids,dramatically reducing their ability to actually penetrate the skin and stick. See Removal of glochidia
The very closely related Opuntia rufida differs in having reddish-brown glochids. It occurs further north in northern Mexico, and into western Texas. Some botanists treat the two as a single species.
- Species comparison gallery
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