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Prickly Pear other than Indian Fig

Common pear fruit

Common prickly pear

Prickly pear3

Prickly pear4

Prickly pear spines & glochids

Prickly pear fruit

Prickly pear piece taking root

Smooth tree pear plant

Smooth tree pear

Smooth tree pear flowers

Tiger pear spines

Tiger pear



Family:

Cactaceae


Status:

Prickly pear (Opuntia species) are declared noxious in class 4 throughout the Southern Tablelands and South East Region. Prickly pear species cannot be propagated or sold anywhere in the state (with the exception of Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) which is sometimes cultivated for its edible fruits. Opuntioid cacti, which includes Opuntia species (except for Indian fig), Cylindropuntia and Austrocylindropuntia species, have been included on the list of Weeds of National Significance.

Description:

Prickly pears are cacti, with swollen fleshy stems, spines and no leaves. Common pear (Opuntia stricta) is usually under a metre in height, with thick blue-green flat plate-like stems and clusters of brown hairs (glochids) located at raised "eyes". There may or may not also be spines from 1-5cm long emerging from these "eyes". Drooping tree pear (Opuntia monacantha, formerly O. vulgaris) grows up to 4 metres high and has thinner bright green "plates" with between one and twelve spines per "eye". Tiger pear (Opuntia aurantiaca) stems are sausage-shaped and sized, with very long sharp spines. It forms spreading clumps to about 1m high. Prickly pear taxonomy in Australia is somewhat confused and several different entities appear to have been lumped under the name of Opuntia stricta, which perhaps explains the variation in plants identified as this from different areas.

Preferred habitat and impacts:

Originally garden plants, they may occur close to old buildings, but can also be spread far from habitation. Rocky slopes and river banks are favoured habitats.

Dense infestations can impede movement. The long sharp spines can make walking through outbreaks of these plants very unpleasant. Prickly pears can dominate the vegetation of rocky outcrops displacing natives, some of which may be rare or threatened species

Dispersal:

Birds and other animals can spread the seed of common pear and drooping tree pear. Tiger pear fortunately does not produce viable seed in Australia.

The segments will take root from the "eyes" if left in contact with the ground, and because they are so succulent, they can remain capable of rooting for several months after being detached from the parent plant, even in such hostile environments as rock or dry bare soil. They can be moved in floods leading to infestations along river banks. The spines of tiger pear have a slight hook at the tip which will attach to animals, vehicles and humans.

Look-alikes:

The spineless Indian fig (O. ficus-indica), sometimes grown as a hedge or for its edible fruits, has also become weedy in Victoria but is not listed as noxious in NSW. It may be a large shrub or develop a woody trunk and become tree-like. Its segments are very similar to those of common pear but more oval-shaped. The "eyes" on its segments are small and distant and do not contain any spines.

Control:

Plants can be dug out, but need to be disposed of very carefully because of their ability to take root again if left on the ground. Segments will remain viable even if hung up in vegetation or placed on rocks away from soil, and they may be relocated onto soil by wind, water or animals. Deep burial or burning is safest, although a lot of fuel would be required to consume the succulent stems. Be very careful when handling any prickly pears, as the tiny glochids easily get into the flesh and break off, causing irritation. Wear leather gloves and thick clothing and shoes. Kitchen tongs are useful for handling the smaller segments.

Spraying with woody weed specific herbicide can be effective, but a high concentration is needed.

Biological controls (the Cactoblastis moth and cochineal insects) are effective in warmer climates, but in southern areas they need to be reintroduced after winter. They may weaken plants and prevent seeding, but will not eradicate infestations.