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

Plants to accompany cactus and agave
October 09, 2005 - What plants would look well with cactus and agave to soften the look of spikiness? Also, a homeowner in our association wants the association to plant a pyracantha at the corner of the street to preve...
view the full question and answer

How do cacti stay in ground
February 25, 2005 - How do cacti stay in ground? I know that flowers stay in the ground by their roots but what about cacti?
view the full question and answer

Worms in non-native snake plant from Hillsborough NC
September 17, 2011 - I purchased a snake plant this summer for my screened in porch. I did not repot it and left it in the plastic pot in came it. I was about to repot the plant to bring it in and noticed there are worm...
view the full question and answer

Questions about hollyhocks and yucca
May 25, 2016 - I have 2 questions. In Western N.Y. State the hollyhocks grow like weeds but add color with their large stalks. I've sent for seeds and the best I can do in N.W.Travis county is 9 inch plants that die...
view the full question and answer

Plants for 16th floor of condo in Panama City Beach, FL
May 30, 2012 - My husband and I have a COSI on the west end of Panama City Beach, Fl. I love plants and flowers and live out of state. Our condo is on the 16th floor and directly on the gulf. What type of plants ...
view the full question and answer

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