Prickly, Sticker and Thorn

Cactus barbs

There’s an old law firm in the desert named “Prickly, Sticker and Thorn,” and it means business.


Teddy Bear Cholla

With so little rain in the desert, the plants and animals have adapted to survive on just a few inches of precipitation per year.


Timm pretends to hold up a Saguaro, but wouldn't dare 

One way plants like cactus adapt to the ultra dry conditions is to retain water inside its body.  For example, the Saguaro cactus may swell up to 50% its normal girth to hold the water it absorbs from an infrequent rainstorm.


Barrel cactus

Of course, this makes cacti an attractive target for animals seeking water in the desert.


Barrel cactus up close and personal 

So the main way that desert plants defend themselves from being eaten to death is with a tight mesh of thorns and spikes.


Spikes everywhere

Just about every plant in the desert has a formidable defense of sharp thorns.


Yucca plant

For example, each “leaf” of a yucca plant has a spike on its end that is so sharp and firm that it penetrated through a thick coat and two shirts to puncture my bicep when I accidentally brushed up against it.  The wound still hurts a few days later.


Dead cactus

Cacti remain a threat even long after they are dead.  It can take decades for cactus thorns to decompose in the ultra-low humidity of the desert.


Sharp cactus burrs in Darby's pads

Even the burrs are brutally sharp.  They are especially painful when they collect on the dogs’ paws, pads, bodies and even faces.  You cannot remove the burrs with your hands, as they will pierce your skin and stick to you instead, and then the little puncture wounds continue to hurt for hours.  We keep a pair of tweezers in our backpack and have to use them frequently when hiking with the dogs. 


Darby carefully smells the scent of another animal on a barrel cactus

The dogs have learned a healthy respect for desert flora, but they still get stuck many times.  After each hike, the dogs literally lick their wounds.  They’re probably hoping we are going to leave the desert soon and return to the less painful deciduous forests.

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