Prickly pear

'Prickly pear' is a general term used to describe the Opuntia species, members of the Cactaceae family. Native to the Americas, prickly pear is a spiny, drought-resistant succulent that rapidly invades pastures and natural areas and overwhelms other vegetation.

Scientific name

Opuntia spp. other than O. ficus-indica

Other names

Common pest pear, spiny pest pear, tiger pear, drooping tree pear, velvety tree pear, Westwood pear

Similar species

  • Cylindropuntia spp., Austrocylindropuntia spp.

Description

  • Perennial, leafless, succulent shrub, usually 50–100cm tall.
  • Stems are spiny, flattened, leafless, divided into segments (pads or joints).
  • Skin is thick, tough, drought-resistant.
  • Fruit is pear-shaped, bristly, varies from red to purple, orange, yellow and green.
  • Flowers are large, 6cm wide, range from yellow, orange, red, pink and purple to white form seen during spring.
  • Seeds are 5mm long, have hard seed coats that allow them to survive heat and lack of water.
  • Most internal tissues are used for water storage.
  • Outer parts are used to reduce water loss and damage by animals.
  • Some species develop underground bulbs that enable them to resist fire and mechanical damage.
  • See the Opuntioid cacti fact sheet (PDF, 12.4MB) for more information on Opuntia species descriptions.

Habitat

  • Prefers subhumid to semi-arid areas in warm temperate and subtropical regions.
  • Varies depending on species and can range from streams, banks, and roadsides to woodlands.

Distribution in Queensland

Life cycle

  • Reproduces sexually and asexually.
  • Asexual reproduction (cloning) occurs when pads (joints, segments) or fruits on ground take root and produce shoots. Pads can survive long periods of drought before weather conditions allow them to set roots.
  • Flowers late spring to summer.

Impacts

Environmental

  • Vigorous in hot, dry conditions, causing other plants to lose vigour or die.

Economic

  • Competes and invades pastures.
  • Impedes stock movement and mustering.

Social

  • Can harm animals and prevent them from eating.

How it is spread

  • Spread by birds and animals eating fruit and excreting viable seed.
  • Also spread by animals and floods moving broken pads long distances.

Control

Mechanical control

  • Using machinery is unsatisfactory because prickly pear pads can easily re-establish.
  • Fire is an effective control method for dense prickly pear infestations. Before burning, consult Biosecurity Queensland to see if this practice is suitable for your pasture and land management practices.

Herbicide control

  • Herbicides are effective.

See the Opuntioid cacti fact sheet (PDF, 12.4MB) for herbicide control and application rates.

Biological control

  • Investigations into biological control agents began in 1912. Over 150 insect species were studied throughout the world, with 18 insects and 1 mite released in Queensland.
  • Today, 8 insects and the mite remain established in Queensland. These species are:
    • Cactoblastis cactorum, a stem-boring moth
    • Dactylopius ceylonicus, a cochineal scale insect
    • Dactylopius opuntiae, a cochineal scale insect
    • Dactylopius confusus, a cochineal scale insect
    • Dactylopius austrinus, a cochineal scale insect
    • Chelinidea tabulata, a cell-sucking bug
    • Tucumania tapiacola, a stem-boring moth
    • Archlagocheirus funestus, a stem-boring beetle
    • Tetranychus opuntiae, prickly pear red spider mite.
  • These biological control agents continue to keep several prickly pears under control. Not all of them attack all prickly pears.
  • Most successful of these species were the Cactoblastis stem-boring moth and the four cochineal mealybugs. The other agents remain but not in sufficient numbers to provide control.

Legal requirements

All species of Opuntia are prohibited invasive plants except for O. microdasys, O. elata, O. stricta, O. aurantiaca, O. monacantha, O. tomentosa and O. streptacantha species which are restricted invasive plants. Opunita ficus-indica (Indian fig) is not a prohibited or restricted invasive plant.

Prohibited

  • This is a prohibited invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014.
  • The Act requires that all sightings to be reported to Biosecurity Queensland within 24 hours.
  • By law, everyone has a general biosecurity obligation (GBO) to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risk of it spreading until they receive advice from an authorised officer.

Restricted

  • This is a restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014.
  • It must not be given away, sold, or released into the environment without a permit.
  • Opuntia microdasys and O. elata must be reported to Biosecurity Queensland within 24 hours of being sighted.
  • The Act requires everyone to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks associated with invasive plants and animals under their control. This is called a general biosecurity obligation (GBO).
  • At a local level, each local government must have a biosecurity plan that covers invasive plants and animals in its area. This plan may include actions to be taken on certain species. Some of these actions may be required under local laws. Contact your local government for more information.

More information