Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - February 16, 2015

From: Sun City West, AZ
Region: Southwest
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Problem Plants, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Skin Reaction form Cochineal on Prickly Pear
Answered by: Mike Tomme

QUESTION:

I have severe burning and peeling skin on pads of fingers after touching "white stuff" on a prickly pear. White stuff tuned purple then burned skin even after washing hands. Skin has been cracking and bleeding for 2 months.

ANSWER:

Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer eplaining what that white stuff is. Briefly, there is a small insect inside that white stuff called cochineal. The red or purple juice you found has been used as a dye for hundreds of years. It is the dye used in garments worn by the popes and in the British redcoats. It is still used in cosmetics and as a food coloring, particularly in Europe. At one time it was Mexico's second largest export product behind silver.

But, you probably don't care that much about all that while your fingers are burning and bleeding.

A quick Google search for "skin allergy to cochineal" brought up a number of sites that describe allergic reactions to cochineal or red dye or carmine or carminic acid. Mr. Smarty Plants has never experienced the problems you describe so I really can"t offer any advice otherr than to recommend you visit a dermatologist.

 

More Cacti and Succulents Questions

Propagation of Agave americana by seed
July 11, 2007 - Dear Mr Smarty Pants, My Century Plant is fulfilling its one wish and blooming flowers from its massive stalk. Although I am very sad to see it go, it is certainly a sight to behold. This plant, ...
view the full question and answer

How to Control White Fungus on Prickly Pear Cactus?
July 04, 2013 - Is there any kind of spray for our prickly pear that will help with the white fungus that has appeared on it?
view the full question and answer

Century Plant woes
May 04, 2016 - My century plant was fine two weeks ago. Tonight I seen this. Not sure what is happening. It 9 years old. IMG_4716.JPG
view the full question and answer

Trimming of dead foliage on trunks of yucca in California
December 21, 2008 - There is a Yucca plant in the back yard. I want to know how to get the old foliage that has died off of the trunks, it looks kind of ragged. The foliage is about three feet from the green. Can you ...
view the full question and answer

Bloom on non-native Agave attenuata
May 13, 2008 - I have an Agave Attenuata that has grown a long and unsightly stem.Is there a way to cut the plant portion off and re-root the plant without killing the petal portion?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.