I’ve got blisters on my cactus!

When I watered my cactus earlier this week, I noticed that it had what looked like blisters, some of them black, and a wound with dried mucilage attached.  I’ve never seen this before, so I went down the hall and asked some biologists.  Their guess was that it’s caused by either an insect or a virus carried by an insect.


closeup of the affected area of the cactus

I didn’t know what insects might attack cactus, but an internet search turned up the cactus moth, which targets prickly pear cactus like mine.  This moth is native to South America but it has invaded the southeast U.S.  It probably hasn’t come as far north as Pennsylvania.

Yesterday, I removed the injured pad and the pad it was growing on (and the pads growing from it, of course) to get whatever this is as far from the (apparently) healthy remaining cactus as I could.  I also dissected the injured pad.


ready for surgery, with a knife to cut and a pliers to hold the cactus

The big needles appear frightening, but the real danger is from the tiny needles that hurt as much as the big ones and are much more difficult to find and remove.


cutaway view of one of the blisters

The affected areas appear not to have penetrated very far into the cactus, only into the outer, green part.


another cross-section of a blister

I didn’t find any caterpillars, or even any evidence for them like tunnels through the soft, inner part of the cactus pads.  The source of the problem is probably a pathogen, but whether it’s fungal, bacterial, or viral, I cannot guess.  If anyone knows what caused these blisters, please leave a comment.

I wanted to pull out the entire infected stem, but I couldn’t get a good enough grip without getting poked by a lot of needles.  I also couldn’t get a clean break where the pads are joined, so my cactus was left with this large injury.  I hope it heals.


stump left where I removed the affected parts of the cactus



About brianbreczinski

work: chemist, NMR manager; hobbies: gardening, reading, photography, electronics, biking, woodworking
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5 Responses to I’ve got blisters on my cactus!

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  4. Samantha Cowden says:

    I got the same thing from a horned beetle looking insect called a mealy bug. I got rid of them with an organic pesticide called natures care. It worked really well!

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