Opuntia engelmannii (cactus apple)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Opuntia engelmannii Salm-Dyck ex Engelm.
Preferred Common Name
- cactus apple
Other Scientific Names
- Opuntia alta Griffiths
- Opuntia cacanapa Griffiths & Hare
- Opuntia chisosensis (M.S. Anthony) D.J. Ferguson
- Opuntia dillei Griffiths
- Opuntia engelmannii var. alta (Griffiths) Weniger
- Opuntia engelmannii var. cacanapa (Griffiths & Hare) Weniger
- Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri (Engelm.) Parfitt & Pinkava
- Opuntia engelmannii var. subarmata (Griffiths) Weniger
- Opuntia engelmannii var. texana (Griffiths) Weniger
- Opuntia lindheimeri var. chisosensis M.S. Anthony
- Opuntia lindheimeri var. subarmata (Griffiths) Elizondo & Wehbe
- Opuntia lindheimeri var. tricolor (Griffiths) L.D. Benson
- Opuntia subarmata Griffiths
- Opuntia texana Griffiths
- Opuntia tricolor Griffiths
International Common Names
- English: cactus-apple; discus prickly-pear; Engelmann's prickly-pear; few-spine marble-fruit prickly-pear; Lindheimer prickly-pear
- Spanish: cacanapo
Local Common Names
- South Africa: klein rondeblaarturksvy; small round-leaved prickly pear
- USA: cowtongue cactus; cowtongue prickly-pear; Engelmann's prickly-pear; nopal prickly-pear; Texas prickly-pear
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
O. engelmannii is a species of cactus, and one of many Opuntia species that have been introduced from their native ranges in the Americas and become naturalized and invasive, particularly in Australia, southern and eastern Africa, and the Mediterranean region. However, O. engelmannii is also reported as a noxious weed in Texas and elsewhere in its native range, where it has undergone control for almost a century. Contrastingly, in other US states such as Arizona it is noted as potentially endangered. Noting new records (e.g. Saudi Arabia), further occurrences not yet reported in other countries are possible, and further spread is likely. However, where it is invasive in Australia and South Africa, it has been successfully brought under control, as with other Opuntia species, with the use of biological control agents.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Caryophyllales
- Family: Cactaceae
- Genus: Opuntia
- Species: Opuntia engelmannii
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Opuntia is a large genus within the Cactaceae family, with almost 300 species. It is said that the name Opuntia comes from an ancient Greek village, where the botanist Tournefort found a spiny plant which reminded him of the American opuntias (Scheinvar, 1995). Opuntia includes 11 subgenera: Opuntia, Consolea, Austrocylindropuntia, Brasiliopuntia, Corynopuntia, Cylindropuntia, Grusonia, Marenopuntia, Nopalea, and Tephrocactus.
As with many Opuntia species, the taxonomy has undergone repeated revision, and is not entirely clear. As such, historical records of presence should be carefully verified against accepted synonyms, though further revision may be likely.
The authority accepted here, The Plant List (2013), is O. engelmannii Salm-Dyck ex Engelm., though records can be found where it is referred to as O. engelmannii Salm-Dyck. The following infraspecific taxa are accepted in The Plant List (2013): subsp. lindheimeri, var. dulcis, var. flavescens, and var. linguiformis. O.engelmannii var. linguiformis is closely related to subsp. lindheimeri. The taxa lindheimeri is also still commonly given species or varietal rank.
The synonym O. dillei has been used to describe a spineless or nearly spineless morphotype (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2014). O.engelmannii var. cuija and O.engelmannii var. flexospina are cited in USDA-NRCS (2015) and elsewhere, but The Plant List (2013) classify these as synonyms of O.cantabrigiensis and O.aciculata, respectively. O.engelmannii var. flavispina is included in GBIF (2015), USDA-ARS (2015) and USDA-NRCS (2015), but not included at all in The Plant List (2013).
A number of hybrids have also been listed, including artificial hybrids bred for forage and other uses (Felker et al., 2009).
DescriptionTop of page
Adapted from Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2014):
O. engelmannii is a perennial cactus, generally growing 1 to 3(3.5) m tall, with a short trunk, spreading and sometimes decumbent. Stem segments are yellow-green to blue-green, flattened, elongate, circular to obovate to rhombic, or tapering at the apex. Cladodes are 15-40 cm long (rarely up to 120 cm) and 10-40 cm wide, tuberculate, glabrous, often glaucous. Areoles evenly distributed to absent, 5-8 per diagonal row across cladodes, subcircular to obovate, 4-7 mm across. Spines are 10-30(-50) mm long, white to yellow, red to dark brown at the base turning grey to black with age, absent or many, (0-)1-6(-12) per areole, subulate, straight to curved, flattened to angular at least near base. Glochids (smaller, hair-like spines) are up to 10 mm long, widely spaced, encircling areoles or nearly so, sparse in the crescent at adaxial edge, scattered in subapical tufts, yellow to red-brown and turning grey to black. Showy flowers are 30-40 mm long, yellow, or orange, pink to red, rarely whitish, filaments, anthers, and styles are whitish to cream coloured, stigma lobes yellow-green to green. Fruits are 3.5-9 cm long and 2-4 cm wide, spineless and glabrous (though glochids are present), dark red to purple throughout, sometimes stipitate, ovate-elongate to barrel-shaped, areoles 20-32 usually toward apex. Seeds are brown to grey, subcircular to deltoid, flattened, 2.5-6 mm long and 2-5 mm across. The synonym O. dillei has been used to describe a spineless or nearly spineless morphotype.
Plant TypeTop of page
DistributionTop of page
O. engelmannii is native to south-western and some southern and central states of the USA, and to Mexico. In the USA, the centre of diversity appears to be in Texas, where most varieties are reported to occur, but the range spreads from California to Mississippi, and north to Missouri. USDA-NRCS (2015) provide separate distributions in the USA for most of the accepted infraspecific taxa, with O. engelmannii var. engelmannii having the widest distribution, from Texas to California. O. engelmannii var. lindheimeri (=subsp. lindheimeri) overlaps in the eastern part of this range, in New Mexico and Texas, but also stretches east to Louisiana and Mississippi and north-east to Missouri. O. engelmannii var. linguiformis is recorded only in Texas, and thus the centre of diversity for O. engelmannii appears to be in this state.
In Mexico, USDA-ARS (2015) record it as present, and presumably native, to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas, and south to Guanajuato, Hidalgo and Querétaro.
It has been introduced to Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, South Africa and Australia, with a further record from Panama. In Australia, it is found mainly in South Australia, around and north of Adelaide, with isolated occurrences in south-western New South Wales and Western Australia (Council of Heads of Australasia Herbaria, 2015). In South Africa, O.engelmannii is reported as spreading and invasive, ‘of particular concern’, and classified as a CARA category 1 weed. O. engelmannii is reported as invasive in parts of Kenya including Loisaba in the north. There are no known records of it in Uganda and Tanzania, although this does not necessarily mean that it is absent from these countries (BioNET-EAFRINET, 2015).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Feb 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Saudi Arabia||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive||Taif, near Mecca. Apparently naturalized; Original citation: Mosallam (1996, publ. 1999)|
|Spain||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Valencia and Catalonia provinces|
|United States||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Australia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-New South Wales||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive||Original citation: Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (2015)|
|-South Australia||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Original citation: Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (2015)|
|-Western Australia||Present, Localized||Introduced||Invasive||Original citation: Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (2015)|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
O. engelmannii has been noted as spreading within its native range in the USA. O. engelmannii and subsp. lindheimeri tend to increase in frequency on rangeland under drought conditions, or when land is overgrazed (Gay, 1968), and it is reported as a noxious weed in Texas (Everitt et al., 1995). However, O. engelmannii var. engelmannii and var. flavispina are also recorded as protected native plants in Arizona, indicating a reducing range.
There are several reports for the first records of varieties of O.engelmannii found in Spain in the early 2000s. Sanz-Elorza et al. (2004) reported on the finding of 8 new alien cacti, including O. engelmannii, in Tarragona, Catalonia, a region that the authors consider as having the greatest accumulation of naturalized cacti in Europe (Sanz-Elorza et al., 2004). Two years later, the same authors reported the first record of O. engelmannii var. linguiformis (as O. lindheimeri var. linguiformis) in Catalonia, with the first record in Europe being in neighbouring Valencia province (Sanz-Elorza et al., 2006). However, Guillot Ortiz and Van Der Meer (2006) also reported the first record in Spain of subsp. lindheimeri (as O. lindheimeri), grown as an ornamental in Zamora, near the northern border with Portugal.
HabitatTop of page
O. engelmannii, like all Opuntia species, prefers hot and dry conditions, and is native to sub-tropical regions in North America. It is more frost tolerant, however, than many other species of Opuntia (Felker et al., 2009). In its native range, O. engelmannii is a true desert plant of rocky or shallow soils e.g. in western Texas, whereas subsp. lindheimeri appears to prefer deeper soils and somewhat more humid conditions as found in central and eastern Texas.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Deserts||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Deserts||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Arid regions||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Arid regions||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Both O. engelmannii and subsp. lindheimeri are hexaploid.
Flower longevity interacts with other variables such as pollinator visitation, temperature and plant resources to control fruit set and seed production of O. engelmannii. Observations in Arizona, USA reported that flowers can open on a single day or on two consecutive days, and that patterns of daily opening and closing appeared to reduce the risk of poor or no pollination (Bowers, 2004). Although flowers opening for the second time offered significantly less nectar and pollen than freshly opened flowers, rewards on the second day were still high enough to encourage visits by potential pollinators (Bowers, 2004).
Visitors to flowers of subsp. lindheimeri reported by Grant et al. (1979) included beetles, which were considered to probably not contribute to pollination, and 10 species of bees, 4 of which are oligoleges of Cactaceae. Small bees (Dialictus and Perdita) were classed as 'pollen thieves', whereas larger bees were effective pollinators, including species of Agapostemon, Melissodes, Diadasia, Lithurge, Megachile, Ceratina and Xylocopa.
Seeds of O. engelmannii that had passed through the digestive tracts of cattle exhibited mean germination rates about 1.5 times higher than control seeds. Germination was improved when temperature was a constant 25-35 degrees Celsius, after soaking in cold water for 12 hours, and after scarification in sulphuric acid (Potter et al., 1984).
Physiology and Phenology
Reproductive maturity occurs after 9-11 years (Bowers, 2005). Flowering in the North American native range is in April and May, with each bloom lasting only one day, opening at about 8 am and closing 8 hours later.
Either flowers or new cladodes are produced from areolar meristems, and plant size was observed to control the number of flowers initiated each spring by O. engelmannii in Arizona (Bowers, 1996). The proportion of flowers that developed and did not abort was thought to be determined by rainfall in the months before flowering, with more developing in wetter years.
Individual plants may persist for up to 56 years. Seed can remain viable in the soil for at least 19 months, and probably longer (Bowers, 2005).
Population Size and Density
Age-based population dynamics of O. engelmannii were studied by Bowers (2005) at a Sonoran Desert site in Arizona, protected from grazing since 1907. Moderate longevity (13-56 years) and per capita annual survival (0.93) were associated with fairly rapid turnover, and cycles of population growth and decline were evident over relatively short periods. Establishment peaks occurred in the late 1970s, the mid-1980s, and early to mid-1990s, coinciding with increased winter moisture in the years before germination, adequate summer rain in the year of germination, and decreased drought in the years after germination, reflecting favorable conditions for fruit production, seed germination and seedling survival. However, even with virtually identical climates, due to local factors, subpopulations a few kilometres apart were seen to exhibit significantly different age structure and density (Bowers, 2005).
O. engelmannii is native to arid and semi-arid regions, often in areas with a short summer rainfall period. However it is also present in the Mediterranean, where winter rainfall is more common. It is reported to prefer clay loams in Texas (Box, 1961), but sandy and gravelly soils in East Africa (BioNET-EAFRINET, 2015). However, the wide genetic variability and broad native range means that varieties will have their own specific preferences. It is one of the more frost hardy species of Opuntia, and hybrids of O. engelmannii have been artificially bred to increase cold tolerance (Wang et al., 1997).
ClimateTop of page
|BS - Steppe climate||Preferred||> 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation|
|BW - Desert climate||Preferred||< 430mm annual precipitation|
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Tolerated||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
|Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter||Preferred||Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-10|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||15||25|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||20||30|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||10||20|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||4||10||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||200||800||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
Special soil tolerances
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
O. engelmannii reproduces by stem fragments that become dislodged and produce roots, as well as by seeds (BioNET-EAFRINET, 2015).
Vector Transmission (Biotic)
As the fruit are sweet and eaten by many different animals, vector dispersal is considered an important means of local dissemination. In the USA, O. engelmannii seed are spread by coyotes (Short, 1979). In Texas, subsp. lindheimeri was observed to be heavily grazed by cattle under a seven-pasture intensive grazing system. This led to a significant increase in plant populations, as the pads were scattered and rooted to produce new plants (Taylor and Merrill, 1975).
Where introduced and naturalised in Saudi Arabia, O. engelmannii seeds were found in baboon (Papio hamadryas) faeces, though ingestion decreased germination rates (Mosallam, 1999).
As a valued ornamental plant, and also a fodder plant, it is most likely that international introductions were intentional, as with most other Opuntia species.
Pathway CausesTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Economic/livelihood||Positive and negative|
Economic ImpactTop of page
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Invasive in its native range
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Highly mobile locally
- Long lived
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Reproduces asexually
- Has high genetic variability
- Modification of successional patterns
- Monoculture formation
- Negatively impacts animal health
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Rapid growth
- Produces spines, thorns or burrs
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
UsesTop of page
The juicy and mildly sweet fruits are edible if the minute spines (or glochids) are rubbed off. These fruits are also used to make juice, syrup, and confectionary. The pads are also edible when cooked if the spines and glochids are removed.
The pads (or cladodes) of O. engelmannii are valued as a fodder, as with many Opuntia species. The status, nutritional values and landowners' attitudes towards O. engelmannii and subsp. lindheimeri in Texas, for livestock production, were examined by Hanselka and Paschal (1991). One native Texas clone of O. engelmannii had 11% crude protein and 0.18% phosphorus in the youngest cladodes, and 5.6% crude protein and 0.055% phosphorus in the oldest cladodes (Gregory and Felker, 1992). In a trial in south Texas, a plantation of O. engelmannii yielded 25 t/ha of cladodes (dry matter) after 3 years, and the highest dry fruit yield was 734 kg/ha (Gathaara et al., 1989).
O. engelmannii and its many varieties are widely grown as ornamentals, and var. linguaformis is especially popular. It is also planted as a live hedge.
Uses ListTop of page
- Boundary, barrier or support
Human food and beverage
- Potted plant
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
Following Opuntia Web (2014):
O. engelmannii can be readily distinguished from subsp. lindheimeri if side by side. Notable differences include the spines, which in subsp. engelmannii are chalky yellow with orange or red shades and without annular lines, whereas in subsp. lindheimeri they are translucent or shiny spines, never chalky, dull white to dull yellow or brown, and annular lines are generally visible. The bases of spines in subsp. engelmannii may be dark red-brown, brown or black, whereas in O. lindheimeri they may be red-brown, rust-brown with purple or pink shades and only rarely brown or black.
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
Winter burning of sites infested by O. engelmannnii has been shown to control the plant (Ruthven et al., 2003).
O. engelmannii may be controlled by cutting the main root 5-10 cm below the soil surface, and then stacking all the material in piles to rot. However, Hoffman et al. (1955) considered the use of bulldozers and drags as unsatisfactory, as many pads became scattered in the process, leading to further reinfestation.
In the USA, Gay (1968) reported that light infestations or scattered clumps could be removed by hand-clearing with heavy hoes before piling the plants to decay, or by burning followed by cattle grazing then clearing again. Mechanical clearing of scattered clumps was also successful by tractor, and dense stands were treated by scraping with a bulldozer blade during dry weather or by pulling heavy railroad rails behind or between machines. It was also found better if cattle were fenced into treated areas, to force them to eat regrowth and reduce re-infestation. Reseeding with native grasses may be required if the ground has been highly disturbed.
Contrastingly, Montemayor et al. (1991) found that subsp. lindheimeri density and canopy cover was actually greater in disced areas compared to untreated strips, indicating that discing was not at all effective. Similarly, Gonzalez (1990) found that subsp. lindheimeri density was not reduced by root ploughing, and even the sowing of grass following mechanical brush manipulation had no major long-term effect on brush reinfestation. Furthermore, reinfestation was negatively correlated to rainfall, suggesting faster rate of brush reinfestation in drier years.
The introduced insect agent Dactylopius opuntiae, together with sporadic chemical or mechanical control, was successful in slowing the invasions of subsp. O. lindheimeri in South Africa (Moran and Zimmermann, 1991). Associated factors for success were: the recognition of this species as a weed before it became widely distributed or of much economic importance; timely initiation of biological control; and the presence of O. engelmannii mainly in hot dry areas that enhanced the debilitating effects of cochineal insects on the plants. The reductions in the levels of control observed later were considered to have been due to relatively isolated, refuge populations, which escaped colonization by the biological control agent.
The moth Cactoblastis cactorum has been used as a biological control agent of several Opuntia species around the world and is widely assumed to be a generalist on host plants within the genus. Larval survival from egg to pupation on O. engelmannii was very high at 58, second only to that on O. ficus-indica of all species tested (Mafokoane et al., 2007). The recent arrival and spread of C. cactorum on the North American mainland has raised concerns for the native species of Opuntia that are being utilized as hosts by the moth. To assess these risks, Jezorek et al. (2010) undertook a study aimed at determining if ovipositing females demonstrated a preference for any of 14 common Opuntia spp. native to or naturalized in Mexico and the southwestern USA. Results from a field experiment showed that female moths preferred O. engelmannii var. linguiformis and O. engelmannii var. engelmannii for oviposition.
Cactoblastis cactorum was also reported to have been introduced to Tanzania but it appears to have not become established (BioNET-EAFRINET, 2015). Unidentified cochineal insects have also been observed feeding on Opuntia in East Africa.
Much work has been done regarding the chemical control of O. engelmanii and subsp. lindheimeri in the USA, especially in Texas during the past 100 years, and many chemicals and treatments have proved effective. Darrow (1957) found that 2,3,6-TBA was effective as a foliage spray on O. engelmannii, while Kolberg (1969) found MSMA to be effective.
Picloram, when applied either as an undiluted liquid formulation, as granules, or pellets applied broadcast, was found to be the most effective herbicide on subsp. lindheimeri by Meyer and Bovey (1980). Mayeux and Johnson (1989) also found picloram to be effective, although the research showed that most uptake was through the pads, conflicting with the general view that soil applications were more effective.
ReferencesTop of page
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Witt A, Luke Q, 2017. Guide to the naturalized and invasive plants of Eastern Africa. [ed. by Witt A, Luke Q]. Wallingford, UK: CABI. vi + 601 pp. http://www.cabi.org/cabebooks/ebook/20173158959 DOI:10.1079/9781786392145.0000
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28/1/15 Original text by:
Nick Pasiecznik, Agroforestry Enterprises, France
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