Cacti are beautiful and unique plants that can add a touch of desert to any home. However, some cacti species contain toxic compounds that can be dangerous to pets and humans upon contact with the skin or when ingested.
Most cacti evolved to grow spines or be poisonous as a way to protect themselves from predators. In harsh conditions, cacti are highly sought after as a source of food and water. By being poisonous or prickly, cacti make themselves less attractive to predators.
Cactus poisoning can be fatal and it is important to know dangerous plants and keep them away from children and pets. Additionally, I recommend you wear gloves when handling cactus to avoid any contact with the sharp spines or potentially poisonous sap.
Poisonous cacti plants
The following cacti are categorized as dangerous to humans and pets.
1. San Pedro cactus
San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) is a columnar cactus native to the Andes Mountains found in South America. It is a fast-growing cactus that can reach a height of 12 inches per year. This cactus is green-blue in color and is covered in spines.
Echinopsis pachanoi has been used by local communities for hundreds of years for healing and spiritual purposes but it’s commonly grown as an ornamental plant across the world. This cactus contains mescaline and other psychoactive alkaloids that can be harmful in large amounts.
While San Pedro cactus is not technically poisonous, consuming it can result in hallucinations, altered consciousness, rapid heart rate, vomiting, and diarrhea. These effects can be severe, particularly when a large amount of the plant material is ingested.
2. Peruvian apple cactus
The Peruvian apple cactus, (Echinopsis peruviana) is another cactus classified as dangerous to pets and humans. This fast-growing columnar cactus originates in the Andes Mountains in Peru. It is a popular ornamental plant that is also indigenously used for medicinal purposes.
This nigh booming cereus contains mescaline and other alkaloids that can cause adverse effects when ingested. Sometimes Echinopsis peruviana poisoning can be fatal and it’s important to keep the plant out of reach of children and pets.
3. Fishhook Barrel cactus
The fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni) is a barrel-shaped cactus native to northern Mexico and the southern United States. It has spiny greyish-green ribs and blooms in summer with red or yellow flowers. This cactus is a popular ornamental plant in various landscapes.
Although this cactus produces edible fruits, its stems contain oxalic acid which can cause stomach upsets when ingested. You may experience discomfort if you get pricked by its sharp spines. To avoid these problems, handle the cactus with gloves and keep it away from children and pets.
4. Jumping Cholla cactus
The Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida) is known for its sharp spines which quickly detach and stick to the skin or clothes. It is native to Sonora and the Southwestern United States. While this cactus is not poisonous, its spines can easily get deep into the skin and cause inflammation, pain, and even infection.
It’s important to be aware of your surrounding when walking nearby the jumping cholla cactus. Additionally, wear gloves, long sleeves, and pants when handling this cactus. If you are pricked, remove the spine immediately using tweezers and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling.
5. Candelabra cactus
The candelabra cactus (Myrtillocactus cochal) is a large, branching cactus native to the Baja California peninsula of Mexico. Its distinctive candelabra-like shape makes it a great ornamental plant both in homes and landscapes.
This cactus is not known to be poisonous but it contains a milky latex that can irritate the skin and eyes. If you come into contact with the cactus sap, wash the area with soap and water. Candelabra cacti are beautiful and easy-care plants but should be kept out of reach of children and pets.
6. Peyote cactus
The Peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) is a small spineless cactus containing mescaline and other psychoactive alkaloids. It is native to Mexico and the southwestern United States. This cactus has been used for many years by the native communities for cultural use.
Peyote cactus is illegal in many states due to its high potential for abuse. However, it can be grown indoors as an ornamental plant if your local ordinances permit. Be sure to keep it away from kids and your furry friends as well.
7. Bolivian Torch cactus
The Bolivian Torch cactus (Echinopsis lageniformis) is a columnar cactus native to the high deserts of Bolivia. It is a member of the Trichocereus genus, which also includes the San Pedro cactus. It has a ribbed stem covered in clustered yellow or brown spines.
Although a popular ornamental plant, the Bolivian Torch cactus contains mescaline and other alkaloids that have psychoactive effects when consumed. It is therefore controlled in most states due to a high potential for abuse.
How to keep cacti out of reach of children and pets
Once you have identified the dangerous cacti in your home, place them in high places where children and pets cannot easily access them. You may install a shelve where you can place the cactus or grow them in suspended baskets. You can also use a cage or a fence around the cactus.
Even when you have taken steps to keep cacti out of reach of children and pets, be watchful when they are around the plants. Additionally, you may teach your children about the dangers that the plants pose and let them know it’s not allowed to touch or ingest any material from such plants.
Here are some additional safety tips:
- Do not ingest any part of a cactus that you have no information about.
- Wear gloves when handling cacti to avoid getting pricked by the sharp spines.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after handling cacti or other dangerous plants.
- If you are pricked by a cactus spine, remove it immediately and wash the area with soapy water.
- If your child or pet experience discomfort or other symptoms after ingesting any material from a poisonous cactus, seek medical attention immediately.
It is important to know that, some animals, such as deer and rabbits, can eat poisonous cacti plants without getting affected. Cactus poisoning can be severe in humans and its best to protect children and pets from such dangerous plants.
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.