Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Opuntia monacantha
(common prickly pear)



Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear)


  • Last modified
  • 18 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Opuntia monacantha
  • Preferred Common Name
  • common prickly pear
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • O. monacantha is native to southeastern South America, but was widely introduced around the world as a source of fruit and fodder from as early as the mid-1700s. It is a large, spiny tree-like Opuntia cactus that has a tendency t...

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Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit.
CaptionOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit.
Copyright©Trevor James-2004/Hamilton; New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit.
HabitOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit.©Trevor James-2004/Hamilton; New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing a close view of cladodes and developing flowers.
CaptionOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing a close view of cladodes and developing flowers.
Copyright©Trevor James-2004/Hamilton, New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing a close view of cladodes and developing flowers.
HabitOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing a close view of cladodes and developing flowers.©Trevor James-2004/Hamilton, New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close view of developing flowers.
CaptionOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close view of developing flowers.
Copyright©Trevor James-2004/Hamilton; New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close view of developing flowers.
FlowersOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close view of developing flowers.©Trevor James-2004/Hamilton; New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of an open flower.
CaptionOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of an open flower.
Copyright©Trevor James-2015/Hamilton; New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of an open flower.
FlowerOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of an open flower.©Trevor James-2015/Hamilton; New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing developing fruits on cladodes.
CaptionOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing developing fruits on cladodes.
Copyright©Trevor James-2009/Hamilton, New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing developing fruits on cladodes.
FruitsOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit, showing developing fruits on cladodes.©Trevor James-2009/Hamilton, New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of fruits on cladodes.
CaptionOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of fruits on cladodes.
Copyright©Trevor James-2009/Hamilton, New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of fruits on cladodes.
FruitsOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); close-up of fruits on cladodes.©Trevor James-2009/Hamilton, New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit of a young plant.
TitleYoung plant
CaptionOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit of a young plant.
Copyright©Trevor James-2015/Hamilton; New Zealand.
Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit of a young plant.
Young plantOpuntia monacantha (common prickly pear); habit of a young plant.©Trevor James-2015/Hamilton; New Zealand.


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Opuntia monacantha Haw.

Preferred Common Name

  • common prickly pear

Other Scientific Names

  • Cactus indicus Roxb.
  • Cactus monacanthos Willd.
  • Opuntia monacantha (Wild.) Haw.
  • Opuntia monocantha nom. illeg.
  • Opuntia vulgaris auct., non Mill
  • Opuntia vulgaris var. lemaireana (Console ex F. A. C. Weber) Backeb.
  • Platyopuntia brunneogemmia F. Ritter

International Common Names

  • English: cochineal prickly pear; common pricklypear; drooping prickly pear; smooth tree pear

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: arumbeva; cardo-palmatico; monducuru; palmatoria; urumbeba
  • China: dan ci xian zhang
  • Germany: gewohnliche Opuntie
  • South Africa: luisiesturksvy; suurturksvy

Summary of Invasiveness

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O. monacantha is native to southeastern South America, but was widely introduced around the world as a source of fruit and fodder from as early as the mid-1700s. It is a large, spiny tree-like Opuntia cactus that has a tendency to spread rapidly via seed and from broken cladodes (‘leaves’ or pads), forming impenetrable thickets that crowd out native plants and forage species and restrict the movement of people and livestock. By 1920 in Queensland, Australia, for example, there were already 10 million hectares invaded by O. monacantha, and it was one of the early targets for potential biocontrol. This proved very effective throughout Australia, as well as in India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Mauritius and Madagascar. It continues to be introduced to other countries and to spread, but biocontrol is clearly a useful tool where invasions get out of hand.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Caryophyllales
  •                         Family: Cactaceae
  •                             Genus: Opuntia
  •                                 Species: Opuntia monacantha

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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O. monacantha is in the subfamily Opuntioideae, tribe Opuntieae. A subspecies, O.monacantha subsp. brunneogemmia (F. Ritter) P.J. Braun & Esteves is accepted by the Plant List (2013), though many other sources such as GBIF (2013) treat this only as a variety, along with other varieties such as var. deflexa, var. gracilior and var. variegata.

There is some confusion in the literature regarding O. vulgaris Mill. as a synonym of O. monacantha. USDA-ARS (2013) regards only O. vulgaris auct. non Mill. and O. vulgaris var. lemaireana (Console ex F. A. C. Weber) Backeb. as synonyms of O. monacantha. O. vulgaris Mill. is generally regarded as a synonym of O. ficus-indica (L.) Mill. (e.g. Plant List, 2013), with O. vulgaris auct. nonn. being treated as a synonym of O. humifusa (Raf.) Raf., and O. vulgaris var. balearica F. A. C. Weber as a synonym of O. stricta (Haw.) Haw. (USDA-ARS, 2013).

The taxonomic history and changing interpretations of the controversial names Cactus opuntia and O. vulgaris were discussed by Leuenberger (1993), who concluded that the choice of the C. opuntia lectotype by previous authors has only perpetuated the confusion surrounding this name and the homotypic O. vulgaris based on it, which has been widely applied to O. monacantha and O. humifusa. Leuenberger (1993) proposed the lectotypification of C. opuntia with another element, which would allow the subsumation of controversial names in the synonymy of O. ficus-indica and so avoid the need to formally reject them, meaning that O. monacantha and O. humifusa would be the correct names for the two species formerly known as O. vulgaris.

The species is also not uncommonly misspelled O. monocantha.


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Adapted from Navie and Adkins (2008) and PIER (2013):

O. monacantha is a succulent shrub or tree growing up to 5 m tall, often with a clear trunk, much branched with drooping upper branches. Cladodes are a bright shiny green when young, narrowly obovate to oblong-lanceolate in outline, 10-35 cm long and 7.5-12.5 cm wide, with margins undulate toward the apex and bases somewhat cuneate. Areoles with 1-2 (3) grey or yellowish to reddish-brown spines with darker tips, 1-7.5 cm long, whereas the trunk areoles have 10 or more spines. Flowers are 7.5-10 cm long, 5 -7.5 cm in diameter; outer perianth parts yellow with a reddish median stripe, 18-25 mm long and 12-15 mm wide. The inner perianth parts are yellow to orange, 25-40 mm long and 12-40 mm wide, with green to white staminal filaments, the style green, 12-20 mm long, stigma lobes cream yellow and 8-10 mm long. Fruits are reddish-purple, fleshy, conical to obovoid, 5-7.5 cm long and 4-5 cm in diameter, prolific and persistent on the plant.


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USDA-ARS (2013) and other sources state that the native range is northeastern Argentina and southeastern Brazil, but it is accepted here that the limits of the native range also include Uruguay and Paraguay. IUCN (2013) confirmed that the native range includes Argentina (Chaco, Corrientes, Entre Ríos, Formosa, Misiones), Brazil (Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul), and Paraguay and Uruguay, where it is common along the coast but scarcer inland. It is listed in the IUCN Red List, but only in the category of ‘least concern’ because ‘it is widespread and abundant especially outside of Brazil’ (IUCN, 2013).

It has been widely introduced beyond the limits of it native range in South America, being frequently planted and naturalized in other areas including northeastern Brazil (Taylor et al., 2013). It is present in parts of Central America, and in several states of the southeastern USA. It was widespread in South Africa, and is present in southern Africa, common in East Africa, and occasionally found in North and West Africa. In Asia it is found in many countries, in the Near East, South Asia and the Himalayan tract, and East and South-East Asia as well as Indonesia and the Philippines. In was common in Australia, and is present in New Zealand and many Pacific islands, as well as islands in the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

However, taxonomical confusion means that some records may be incorrect, especially with specimens recorded as O. vulgaris, which, depending on the variety and naming authority that are not always recorded, could be O. ficus-indica, O. humifisa or O. monocantha (see Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature). Due to frost sensitivity, records for Germany and the UK in GBIF (2013) can only refer to specimens protected at least during winter months.

Distribution Table

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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: 10 Feb 2022
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


Saint HelenaPresentIntroduced
Sierra LeonePresentIntroduced
South AfricaPresentIntroducedInvasive


Hong KongPresentIntroduced
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced


SpainPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroduced

North America

El SalvadorPresentIntroduced
United StatesPresentIntroduced


Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced
Federated States of MicronesiaPresentIntroduced
FijiPresentIntroducedInvasiveAs. O. vulgaris
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroduced
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedInvasiveAs. O. vulgaris
New ZealandPresentIntroducedInvasive
Northern Mariana IslandsPresent

South America

ArgentinaPresentNativeBuenos Aires
BrazilPresentIntroducedNative to southeastern Brazil
-Espirito SantoPresentNative
-Minas GeraisPresentNative
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroduced
-Rio Grande do SulPresentNative
-Santa CatarinaPresentNative
-Sao PauloPresentIntroduced
ParaguayPresentNative to parts of Paraguay

History of Introduction and Spread

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O. monocantha, like many other Opuntia species, was a relatively early global introduction. It was already present in India by 1795 and was likely to have been introduced from there to Sri Lanka before 1850 (Beeson, 1934). It was introduced to Australia and South Africa in the 1800s, and was probably also present in many other countries by 1900, considering that large invasions were already reported in the early 1900s, such as in Madagascar and Mauritius. In Australia, for example, it was estimated that by 1920, almost 10 million hectares in eastern Australia were infested with various Opuntia species, equivalent to one third more than the total cultivated area of the whole country at that time (Johnston, 1921).

It must be noted here, however, that most of the O. monacantha in India and Sri Lanka were killed in the 1800s following the introduction in 1795 of the cochineal Dactylopius ceylonicus, a cochineal insect intended for dye production, but which in fact proved to be a very effective biological control agent (Lounsbury, 1915; Zimmermann et al., 2009). Later, some of the earliest intentional biological control programmes from 19143 to 1935 almost entirely eradicated O. monacantha from Australia, South Africa, Mauritius and Madagascar, leaving only sporadic clumps and small infestations.

Risk of Introduction

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Early introductions of O. monacantha were mostly for beneficial purposes, including as a living fence, as a source of fodder and for its fruit. Later introductions probably also included its use as an ornamental plant. The most likely pathway for its introduction today is via the international nursery trade in succulents, which probably accounts for its wider and more recent distribution. A risk assessment of O. monacantha for the Pacific region resulted in a very high score of 20, indicating that there is a significant risk of possible further introduction of this species.


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In its native range, O. monacantha is common along the coast but scarcer inland, and is often found on sand dunes in restinga (sandy coastal areas), opencarrasco (upland dry forest plateaus) and in southern humid and subhumid forests (IUCN, 2013). Where introduced, it is also found on coastland, in coastal scrub, moist savanna, agricultural areas and ruderal and disturbed sites (Navie and Adkins, 2008). It is found on sandy beaches and cliffs in New Zealand, on seashores and slopes in China from sea level to 2000 m, and in Fiji on dry sites, often in agricultural areas or on waste land near sea level (PIER, 2013). In South Africa it invaded primarily the south and eastern coastal areas (Henderson, 2001).

Habitat List

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Biology and Ecology

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The chromosome number of O. monacantha is reported to be 2n=34 (Bandyopadhyay and Sharma, 2000).

Reproductive Biology

As with other member of the Cactaceae, Opuntia species have morphological and physiological adaptations associated with their life histories that are reflected in different modes of reproduction and multiplication. The reproductive phenology, preferential reproductive mode and the sexual and asexual multiplication of O. monacantha were investigated in southern Brazil by Lenzi et al. (2012a) to determine the adaptive values of its reproduction modes. Flowering occurred every year between September and January, with a few flowers opening per day per individual for approximately 100 continuous days. The preferential sexual system was facultative xenogamy. Seeds are recalcitrant. Germination rates were high, although emergence and establishment in the field were much reduced, though plants have high capacities for vegetative regeneration and clonal multiplication (Lenzi et al., 2012a).

Flowers of Opuntia species may have close mutualistic relations with their visitors. The flower morphology of O. monacantha is related to a melittophilous floral syndrome (Lenzi and Orth, 2012). In southern Brazil, O. monacantha flowers are visited by bees, beetles and ants, with female bees of Cephalocolletes isabelae (Colletidae) being abundant, and were frequently observed touching the flower stigmas and collecting pollen during most visits, indicating the possibility that they are an oligolectic species specializing in O. monacantha flower rewards (Lenzi and Orth, 2012).

Physiology and Phenology

The characteristics of crassulacean acid metabolism were investigated in photosynthetically active cells isolated from O. monacantha and were reported in Spalding (1980).

Environmental Requirements

O. monacantha is native to a region with a principally tropical savannah climate with dry summers and wet winters. In its native range it is notable as a species that prefers coastal sites, sandy soils and dunes, being rarer inland. However, following introduction it has proved itself well adapted to range of other climates, especially more arid regions, warm temperate regions and those with wet summers and dry winters. O. monacantha can tolerate high temperatures and long dry seasons, and is also able to tolerate a certain degree of frost. It can grow at altitudes up to 2000 m.

O. monacantha prefers free draining sandy or loamy soils and is intolerant to waterlogging. Being a coastal species it is also tolerant of saline soils and partially tolerant to salt spray.


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As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
B - Dry (arid and semi-arid) Preferred < 860mm precipitation annually
BS - Steppe climate Preferred > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Preferred < 430mm annual precipitation
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • saline
  • shallow
  • sodic

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Cactoblastis cactorum Herbivore Plants|Whole plant to genus Greathead (1971) Australia, South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Kenya, Caribbean, Hawaii, St Helena
Dactylopius ceylonicus Herbivore to species Greathead (1971); Middleton (1999) India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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When broken from the main plant, the cladodes can be spread by water courses and by flooding. It can also be spread via seeds, the fruit being eaten by livestock and various other animals such as birds and foxes and spread in their droppings (Navie and Adkins, 2008), and possibly also in dumped garden waste. On beaches in its native range in southern Brazil, a large American opossum from the genus Didelphis was the only frugivorous animal observed feeding on O. monacantha fruit, and was considered to be a dispersal agent via digestion and excretion of the seed (Lenzi et al., 2012b). In addition, Lenzi et al. (2012b) reported that cladodes and fruit can also be dispersed at various times of the year along the shore by the action of sea, which could be the first report of maritime hydrochory for a member of the Cactaceae.

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
WaterAlong river systems Yes Yes

Impact Summary

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Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Negative


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O. monacantha is variously described as an agricultural weed, environmental weed and a noxious weed. It is a declared noxious weeds Australia, South Africa (Henderson, 2001; Navie and Adkins, 2008), Fiji and Samoa (PIER, 2013), and is also reported to be a problem weed in East Africa, notably Kenya, though it is not a declared weed there. It can spread rapidly especially on degraded rangelands, disturbed areas and agricultural land. However, there are no records for any quantified costs regarding losses in crop or animal production, or costs of control.

The thorny plants can form dense impenetrable thickets, outcompeting native species and hindering access to people and animals. The spines on the stem and glochids (barbed hairs or bristles) can also cause irritation on contact with the skin (Navie and Adkins, 2008).

Although O. monacantha is also regarded as a weed in southern Madagascar, it has been extensively utilized by the locals, creating a conflict of interest (Middleton, 1999).

The effectiveness of biological control means that the negative impacts of O. monacantha have been greatly reduced in countries that have used biological control.

Social Impact

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In Madagascar, O. monacantha was also extensively utilized as a source of fruit and fodder for cattle, so much so that the local population became dependent on the cactus for survival. The demise of the cactus after the introduction of D. ceylonicus in 1924 caused the starvation of thousands of cattle resulting in widespread famine amongst the local population. Entire villages became deserted and many died (Middleton, 1999).

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • 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
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Rapid growth
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
  • Difficult/costly to control


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The principal uses of O. monacantha are as an ornamental and as a live hedge. O. monacantha var. variegata is used extensively in the ornamental succulent trade.

 The fruits are edible, but they are not of commercial value as compared to some other Opuntia species such as O. ficus-indica. The nutritional content of cladodes (‘leaves’) from the native range in Brazil is reported by Velente et al. (2010). The 8.9% dry matter in the cladodes contains 5.4% protein, 1.4% lipids, 18.5% fibre and 15.0% ash, similar to values reported from other Opuntia species which are widely used as food and forage (Mondragon-Jacobo and Perez-Gonzalez, 2001Velente et al., 2010). In a study to determine grazing and browsing activities in pastures in Vietnam, sheep and cattle showed the highest preference for O. monacantha out of 14 selected browse species (Andersson, 2008). O. monacantha has been most highly utilised in Madagascar.

Opuntia species are widely known for their use in herbal medicines to treat many diseases. Flavonoids from O. monacantha have remarkable anti-inflammatory effects in animals for both acute and chronic inflammation (He et al., 2011), and also have antioxidant effects from their free-radical scavenging activity (Velente et al., 2010). Polysaccharides extracted from O. monacantha cladodes have also been found as potentially useful as a treatment for diabetes (Yang et al., 2008). In experiments with streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats, Yang et al. (2008) found that the extract decreased daily water consumption by an amount comparable to a commercial anti-diabetic drug, increased food intake, significantly decreased blood glucose levels and improved the control of blood glucose and serum lipid level. Insulin levels, however, were not significantly affected.

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed


  • Boundary, barrier or support


  • Ornamental

Human food and beverage

  • Fruits

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Adapted from Navie and Adkins (2008):

O. monacantha can be confused with some other invasive Opuntia species, including O. stricta and O. ficus-indica, but can be distinguished by the following differences:

  • O. monacantha is relatively tall, usually to 2-5 m. Cladodes shiny green, flattened and elongated (oblong or obovate), with one or two large spines on most of the areoles. Flowers are yellow and fruit are greenish with a reddish-purple shine.
  • O. stricta is low-growing, usually to 50-100 cm. Cladodes relatively large, flattened and elongated (elliptic or obovate), without spines on the areoles (occasionally one or two large spines). Flowers are bright yellow and fruits are a deep reddish-purple, including the pulp.
  • O. ficus-indica is relatively tall, to 1.5-3 m. Cladodes very large, flattened and elongated (oblong, elliptic or obovate), without spines on the areoles. Flowers are yellow and fruit colour varies from green-yellow to reddish.

Prevention and Control

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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.

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

Control by utilization has been suggested for some Opuntia species in some developing countries, such as with O. ficus-indica in Ethiopia (Haile et al., 2002). However, the fruits of O. monacantha are not of the quality of O. ficus-indica, although they are eaten by some people; the cladodes have a similar food and fodder value as compared to other species.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Mechanical control by digging, grubbing, cutting, burning, crushing and/or removing O. monacantha is very labour intensive and could even aggravate invasions as it may results in broken plant parts taking root and developing into new plants. In Texas, USA, ranchers burn clumps of wild native thorny Opuntia with a flame-thrower.

Chemical Control

Chemical control of Opuntia was first tried in Australia in 1916 when one of the first herbicides, arsenic pentoxide, was released for its control, but infestations were already too far advanced to make any impact, and it also proved too expensive and was only ever applied on scattered and isolated infestations (Mann, 1970). Various less toxic hormone herbicides including MSMA, picloram, trichlopyr and combinations of these mostly as water-based formulations became registered for the control of various invasive Opuntia species (Grobler et al., 2000). However, due to the high cost and the effectiveness of biological control especially in India, Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa, Mauritius and Madagascar, chemical control only tends to be used to kill isolated plants or small new infestations.

Biological Control

Beeson (1934) reported that Dactylopius ceylonicus Green (indicus, Green) was introduced into India at various dates from 1795 to 1836, apparently having been mistaken for the true carmine cochineal insect, D. coccus Costa (cacti, auct.), but it proved inferior in the production of cochineal dye when compared to D. coccus and the industry died out. However, D. ceylonicus did spread rapidly on O. monacantha throughout India, and by the mid-1800s it had practically eradicated it from northern and central India. It also spread to the sub-Himalayan area of Punjab where it periodically destroyed the species. Beeson (1934) also noted, however, that attempts in the late 1800s century to use D. ceylonicus to control O. monacantha in southern India failed because the commonest species there were O. dillenii and O. nigricans, on which D. ceylonicus does not feed. In contrast, Ramakrishna Ayyar (1931) reported that D. ceylonicus had reduced infestations of the plant in south India to almost negligible levels.

In the mid-1800s, D. ceylonicus indicus was introduced to Sri Lanka from southern India, where it rapidly brought O. monacantha under control (Beeson, 1934).

Johnson and Tryon (1914) conducted a global tour in 1912 to look for insect pests that could be used to control Opuntia species that were already by that time proving very invasive in Queensland, Australia. The only example of biological control in practice they witnessed was for the control of O. monacantha in India and Sri Lanka using the wild cochineal insect D. (Coccus) confusus indicus (= D. ceylonicus) and the effects were so significant that the host plant had been practically exterminated. Based on this evidence, D. confusus indicus from Sri Lanka and D. confusus capensis from South Africa were introduced to Queensland, both established well, and almost completed eradicated O. monacantha in all districts where it has access to this cactus (Johnston, 1921). D. ceylonicus Green (indicus, Green) was introduced to South Australia in 1914, became established successfully and had become very effective in destroying O. monocantha (Scott, 1936). It was introduced to Western Australia and elsewhere in Australia where O. monacantha was proving invasive and had similarly devastating effects on populations in all areas. However, no success was seen with Cactoblastis cactorum, as the larvae died after their initial introduction to Queensland (Johnson and Tryon, 1914), and even when it became established, it was introduced into South Australia from Queensland for the control of O. monocantha but failed to survive (Scott, 1936).

At the same time as the first investigations into the potential for biological control of O. monocantha in Australia started in 1912, D. confusus [Dactylopiuscoccus] was also tested and used in South Africa on O. monacantha (Warren, 1914; Lounsbury, 1915); however, it was the Indian cochineal (D. ceylonicus), introduced in 1913, that provided almost complete eradication in only a few years (Tooke, 1930).

In Mauritius, Moutia and Mamet (1946) provide a historical review of the introduction of the cochineal insects Dactylopius indicus (= D. ceylonicus) and D. tomentosus (= D. opuntiae), which had completely eradicated O. monacantha and O. tuna respectively by that time.

In Madagascar, however, it was D. ceylonicus, introduced in 1923, that proved successful, and was reported to have completely destroyed the populations of O. monacantha by 1925 (Greathead, 1971; Middleton, 1999).

Dactylopius opuntiae Ckll. (tomentosus, auct.) was introduced to Indonesia from Australia in 1934, but did not survive on O. monacantha, which had already become common on the northern coast of Java (van der Goot, 1940).

Clearly, biological control using those species that have proved to be successful in India, Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar could also be tested and used in other countries where O. monacantha has become a widespread invasive weed.


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Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS) source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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21/11/13 Original text by:

Nick Pasiecznik, consultant, France

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