Be aware when you walk through parts of the Eastern Cape veld. Be very aware for dangerous prickles can lie await in the thick tangle of grass around your ankles, on stony ground – or even on a rock where you might wish to take a rest. This painful danger comes in the form of Opuntia aurantiaca, commonly known here as Jointed Cactus, or Litjieskaktus in Afrikaans. It is a terror of note: those tiny, sharp, needle-like thorns embed themselves into your skin – even through denim – and break off easily should you try to brush them off. These plants need a large sign: HANDLE WITH EXTREME CARE!
Their flattened leaf-like stems tend to be bright green, although older plants and those exposed to the sun are sometimes tinged with reddish-purple – as seen below.
These thorny invasive plants come – as so many do – from South America and are a particular menace in the Eastern Cape, where dense infestations of them reduce the grazing potential of the land and can harm animals such as sheep. The thorns stick into the wool of sheep – and anything else that might pass close by and unwittingly aid the dispersal of the plants!
A tip I learned after painfully trying to remove individual broken ends of thorns from my legs with a pair of tweezers, is to use brown parcel tape – the plastic kind. Cover the infected area (or sections of it) with tape, smooth it down firmly … and rip! Most of the thorns stick to the tape and come out – such a relief!