Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Suppport 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

Potted crown of thorns cactus cold tolerance in Marble Falls, TX
December 02, 2009 - I have a large potted crown-of-thorns cactus. Can it remain outside this winter in the Texas Hill Country?
view the full question and answer

Preserving century plant bloom stalk from Sedona AZ
December 16, 2012 - I have the flower stalk from a century plant which I am using as a Christmas tree. Can you advise me as to what I should do to preserve it for future use? Should it be kept indoors or outdoors. Pro...
view the full question and answer

Container plant in difficult sun exposure from Leander TX
June 06, 2014 - HELP!!!! I have a large Mexican terracotta pot on my front porch. This awkward area is facing westward, so receives the full dose of Texas sun after about 3 pm onward. Now here's the catch; my fr...
view the full question and answer

Central Texas plant to grow in cavity in cedar (Juniperus ashei)
February 27, 2010 - Is there a CenTX native that would be happy in a one-gallon cavity in a Cedar tree? I'd like to disguise an amputated limb. I'd consider a Bromeliad or Staghorn fern, but would prefer a native.
view the full question and answer

Growing Conditions for Yucca cernua
October 22, 2011 - Nodding Yucca or Yucca cernua: I bought many lovely plants at the Wildflower Center sale on Friday, among them, a Nodding Yucca or Yucca cernua. 24 of the 25 plants I bought are already in the grou...
view the full question and answer

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