Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Opuntia stricta
(erect prickly pear)

Pasiecznik N and Rojas-Sandoval J, 2020. Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear). Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.37728.20203483537

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Datasheet

Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 13 August 2020
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Opuntia stricta
  • Preferred Common Name
  • erect prickly pear
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Opuntia stricta is a cactus species native to the Americas that has been introduced worldwide as a popular ornamental. This species escaped from cultivation and has become invasive in many countries across Africa and Australia, but also m...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); cladode, with yellow flowers and reddish-purple fruits.
TitleHabit
CaptionOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); cladode, with yellow flowers and reddish-purple fruits.
Copyright©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); cladode, with yellow flowers and reddish-purple fruits.
HabitOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); cladode, with yellow flowers and reddish-purple fruits.©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); habit, showing a dense infestation in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
TitleHabit
CaptionOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); habit, showing a dense infestation in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Copyright©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); habit, showing a dense infestation in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
HabitOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); habit, showing a dense infestation in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the same infestation three years later, destroyed by the natural enemy Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) and Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth).
TitleSuccessful biocontrol
CaptionOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the same infestation three years later, destroyed by the natural enemy Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) and Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth).
Copyright©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the same infestation three years later, destroyed by the natural enemy Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) and Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth).
Successful biocontrolOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the same infestation three years later, destroyed by the natural enemy Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) and Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth).©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontol agent Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta under controlled conditions.
TitleBiocontrol agent
CaptionOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontol agent Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta under controlled conditions.
Copyright©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontol agent Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta under controlled conditions.
Biocontrol agentOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontol agent Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta under controlled conditions.©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontrol agent, Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta, under controlled conditions.
TitleBiocontrol agent
CaptionOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontrol agent, Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta, under controlled conditions.
Copyright©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontrol agent, Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta, under controlled conditions.
Biocontrol agentOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the biocontrol agent, Dactylopius opuntiae ('stricta' biotype) infesting O. stricta, under controlled conditions.©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the natural enemy, Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth). Larvae.
TitleNatural enemy
CaptionOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the natural enemy, Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth). Larvae.
Copyright©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the natural enemy, Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth). Larvae.
Natural enemyOpuntia stricta (erect prickly pear); the natural enemy, Cactoblastis cactorum (cactus moth). Larvae.©Plant Protection Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Opuntia stricta (Haw.) Haw.

Preferred Common Name

  • erect prickly pear

Other Scientific Names

  • Cactus strictus Haw.
  • Consolea bahamana (Britton & Rose) A. Berger
  • Opuntia anahuacensis Griffiths
  • Opuntia bahamana Britton & Rose
  • Opuntia inermis DC

International Common Names

  • English: Australian pest pear; coastal prickly pear; common pest pear; common prickly pear; pest prickly pear; prickly pear; sour prickly pear; southern spineless cactus
  • Spanish: higo chumbo; tuna

Local Common Names

  • Bahamas: prickly-pear cactus
  • Brazil: opuntia; palma-de-espinho; palmatoria
  • Cuba: tuna mansa
  • South Africa: suurturksvy

EPPO code

  • OPUST (Opuntia stricta)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Opuntia stricta is a cactus species native to the Americas that has been introduced worldwide as a popular ornamental. This species escaped from cultivation and has become invasive in many countries across Africa and Australia, but also more recently in the Mediterranean basin. Large and serious invasions have been reported in Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Yemen, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and lately also Spain and some North African countries. It has also become naturalized in many other regions (primarily in Africa and Asia) where it has not yet been recorded as a pest. In South Africa and Namibia large infestations have been reported,mainly in dry savanna bushlands, while in Australia all states are invaded with widespread populations invading southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales. Successful biological control programmes have, however, severely reduced the spread of this species in many areas where introduced, though there continues to be a risk of further introduction through the nursery trade.

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The family Cactacaeae comprises 139 genera and about 1866 species of cacti.  Cacti are one of the most conspicuous and ecologically important plant groups in dry and arid ecosystems across the New World (Stevens, 2017). Opuntia stricta Haworth has been generally accepted as a single species comprising two varieties (or sub-species), O. stricta var. stricta and O. stricta var. dillenii (Benson, 1982). However, the variety O. stricta var. dillenii is now considered a separate species from O. stricta and it is named as Opuntia dillenii while the subspecies O. stricta var. stricta is considered a synonym of O. stricta (Labra et al., 2003; Majure et al., 2012; World Flora Online, 2020).

Authors recognized the existence of many intermediate forms between O. stricta and O. dillenii where these two species grow sympatrically in the southeastern United States and Mexico.  While the taxonomy of this genus still remains confused, two new subgeneric taxa have been described from Mexico, O. stricta ssp. esparzae (Scheinvar, 2002) and O. stricta var. reitzii (Scheinvar) Scheinvar & A. Rodr. (Scheinvar and Rodriguez-Fuentes, 2000), although these have yet to be confirmed.

Description

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Plants are sprawling or erect, much-branched succulent shrubs reaching a height of 2 m. The cladodes (stems) are green to bluish-green, flattened, and about 10-25 cm long and usually 7.5-15 cm broad. From the areoles develop the stout, slightly curved yellowish spines, varying in numbers from entirely absent to groups of one or two or more, normally clusters. Clochids (spine clusters) are yellow and relatively few, up to 5 mm long in the spinier var. dillenii. The flowers are bright yellow and typically cactus-like, appearing during the summer months (Benson, 1982). The species is best identified by its typical pear-shaped to spherical fruit, purple-coloured at maturity, 4-6 cm long and 2.5-3 cm in diameter. Its outer surface is smooth and spineless except for a few glochids imbedded in the small areoles. The pulp is intense purple in colour and sour tasting and contains about 60 hard-coated seeds. Older plants develop woody stems that provide support to the larger plants.

Plant Type

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Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed / spore propagated
Succulent
Vegetatively propagated

Distribution

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Within its natural distribution, O. stricta can be found from mainland Ecuador to mainland USA , along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida, and the Atlantic coast of Florida and South Carolina (Benson, 1982), although USDA-ARS (2018) report presence as far north as North Carolina and Virginia.  O. stricta has been introduced to many other countries where it quickly naturalized and became invasive.  Now it can be found naturalized and spreading across Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and Oceania (GRIIS, 2018; USDA-ARS, 2018).  

The variety O. stricta var. dillenii was previously reported as native to many Caribbean islands.  However, O. stricta var. dillenii is now recognized as a separate species from O. stricta, O. dillennii (Labra et al., 2003; Majure et al., 2012; World Flora Online, 2020).  Opuntia dillennii is the species occurring naturally on most islands across the West Indies while O. stricta occurs only in the Bahamas and probably Cuba (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012).

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: 25 Feb 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes

Africa

AngolaPresentIntroducedInvasive
EritreaPresentIntroducedInvasive
EswatiniPresentIntroducedInvasive
EthiopiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
KenyaPresentIntroducedInvasive
MadagascarPresent, WidespreadIntroducedInvasive
MalawiPresentIntroducedInvasive
MoroccoPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasive
NamibiaPresent, WidespreadIntroducedInvasive
SomaliaPresentIntroducedInvasive
South AfricaPresent, WidespreadIntroducedInvasive
TanzaniaPresentIntroducedInvasive
TunisiaPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasive
UgandaPresentIntroducedInvasive

Asia

ChinaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-FujianPresentIntroduced
-GuangdongPresentIntroduced
-GuangxiPresentIntroduced
-HainanPresentIntroduced
Hong KongPresentIntroducedInvasive
IndiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-OdishaPresent
NepalPresentIntroducedInvasive
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedInvasive
TaiwanPresentIntroducedInvasive
VietnamPresentIntroducedInvasive
YemenPresent, WidespreadIntroducedInvasiveAlso invasive on Socotra

Europe

FrancePresentIntroducedInvasive
ItalyPresentIntroducedInvasive
-SicilyPresentIntroducedInvasive
PortugalPresentIntroducedInvasive
SpainPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedNaturalized

North America

BahamasPresentNative
BarbadosPresentNative
British Virgin IslandsPresentNative
Cayman IslandsPresentNative
CubaPresentOrigin unclear. Different sources report as native or as introduced and invasive
Dominican RepublicPresentNative
GrenadaPresentNative
JamaicaPresentNative
MexicoPresentNative
MontserratPresent, WidespreadNativeInvasive
Netherlands AntillesPresentNative
Puerto RicoPresentNativeInvasive
U.S. Virgin IslandsPresentNative
United StatesPresentNative
-AlabamaPresentNative
-FloridaPresentNative
-GeorgiaPresentNative
-LouisianaPresentNative
-MississippiPresentNative
-North CarolinaPresentNative
-South CarolinaPresentNative
-TexasPresentNative
-VirginiaPresentNative

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-New South WalesPresent, WidespreadIntroduced1839Invasive
-Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedInvasive
-QueenslandPresent, WidespreadIntroduced1870Invasive
-South AustraliaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-TasmaniaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-VictoriaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroducedInvasive
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedInvasive
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced

South America

BrazilPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-AlagoasPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-BahiaPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-CearaPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-ParaibaPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-Rio Grande do NortePresentIntroducedNaturalized
-SergipePresentIntroducedNaturalized
ColombiaPresentNative
EcuadorPresentNative
VenezuelaPresentIntroduced

History of Introduction and Spread

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Opuntia stricta is a popular ornamental and hedge plant. Its showy yellow flowers and attractive purple-reddish fruit make this cactus a favoured pot and hedge plant and one of the most popular ornamental cactus species worldwide.  O. stricta probably arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia prior to 1839 and Rockhampton, Queensland about 1870 (Mann, 1970). It is not known when and how the species arrived in South Africa, but it was first recorded within the Kruger National Park in 1953 growing as an ornamental plant in Skukuza village. It soon naturalized and by about 1980 was rapidly spreading around Skukuza. By 1998 it was covering about 6000 ha, making it the most widespread invasive alien plant in the national park (Foxcroft et al., 2004). In East Africa, it was introduced in the 1950s. In Kenya, the species has become increasingly problematic in recent years, with deterioration in rangeland creating a perfect opportunity for invasion by O. stricta (BioNET-EAFRINET, 2018).

In Europe, several Opuntia species were introduced from Central America by Spanish conquistadors between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. Across Europe, but mainly in the Mediterranean regions, Opuntia species have been cultivated for fruit consumption, livestock foraging, fencing, as ornamentals and for the production of a red dye that was obtained from the infesting cochineal insect Dactylopius coccus (Vilà et al., 2003).  

Related to the spread of O. stricta is the introduction, spread and invasiveness of a biological control agent released to control it. In order to deal with invasions of Opuntia species, a biological control agent Cactoblastis cactorum was released on Nevis, St Kitts, Cayman Islands, Antigua and Montserrat in 1957 (Simmonds and Bennett, 1966), providing satisfactory levels of control of problematic Opuntia species. Unfortunately C. cactorum has spread naturally and by human interventions to many other Caribbean islands and it eventually reached Florida where it dispersed rapidly west along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It attacks all six native Opuntia species in Florida, including O. stricta (Johnson and Stiling, 1998), with potential for devastating damage to commercial Opuntia plantations in Mexico (Zimmermann et al., 2001). However, a study of the effect of C. cactorum on native Opuntia in St Kitts and Nevis 50 years after its introduction found that residual populations remained and concluded that that the potential impact of C. cactorum on native North American and Mexican Opuntia will be significant and variable, but not necessarily catastrophic (Pemberton and Liu, 2007).

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of new introduction of O. stricta is very high.  For this species the most likely pathway for further introductions is through the horticultural and nursery trade. Several species of Opuntia (including O. stricta) are among the most popular ornamental and hedge cacti commercialized worldwide (ISSG, 2018).  Seeds of Opuntia species are available online from mail-order companies, along with many other ornamental cacti.

Habitat

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The natural range of O. stricta spans a large area with varying climates, habitats and soils. This species is a common element of dry, semi-arid and arid regions. It inhabits open woodlands, dry forests, semiarid thickets, rangelands, grasslands, pastures, waterways, roadsides, coastal thickets, disturbed sites and waste areas (Queensland Government, 2018). Although O. stricta is frost-tolerant, it thrives best in hot and humid conditions. This species is also drought tolerant (up to 8 months), and wild and naturalized populations can be found in areas with mean annual rainfall ranging from 300 mm to > 1200 mm.

 In Australia and South Africa this species has invaded millions of hectares and can be found in many soil types, habitats and climates (Mann, 1970; Henderson, 2001). Invasions are always enhanced by disturbances and in particular by overgrazing, and O. stricta has never invaded the well-grassed downs in Australia or high altitude grasslands in the cooler parts of South Africa. Invasions were particularly common in low-lying wooded areas in Australia and savanna bushlands in South Africa (Wells et al., 1986; Malan, 1989).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedManaged grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalDeserts Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalDeserts Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalArid regions Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalArid regions Principal habitat Natural
LittoralCoastal areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
LittoralCoastal areas Principal habitat Natural
LittoralCoastal dunes Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
LittoralCoastal dunes Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Reproductive Biology
Opuntia stricta has hermaphroditic flowers that are pollinated by insects (primarily bees). This species is self-compatible but highest levels of seed-set occur when plants are subjected to cross-pollination and open pollination (Bartomeus and Vilà, 2009).

Physiology and Phenology

Seeds of O. stricta are scarified when passing through animals’ digestive systems, germinating within four days. Seeds that are not scarified germinate best after about a year. Seedlings are very delicate and nurse plants are important for their survival, providing nutrients and protection. The optimum conditions for seed germination are 20/30°C in a 12 h /12 h day/night cycle which are typical summer conditions in its range. Most seeds will not germinate during periods when average temperatures are below 20°C (Reinhardt et al., 1999). Polyembryony in O. stricta is common (2-5%). Vegetative reproduction is by means of cladodes that dislocate easily from the mother plant and can take root and develop into new plants whenever conditions are favorable. The CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism) cycle enables separated cladodes to survive for long periods. These two modes of reproduction lead to the typical 'clumps' of plants, contributing to the aggressive behavior of O. stricta in areas where it has been introduced.

Environmental Requirements

Opuntia stricta is well adapted to survive extreme drought and it uses the CAM gas exchange pattern as one method to conserve water. The key to water conservation of CAM plants is their nocturnal stomatal opening as opposed to most plants, which open their stomata during the heat of the day to photosynthesize. Carbon dioxide is fixed into organic acids during the night, which is released again into the chloroplast during the day for photosynthesis (Nobel, 1995; Nobel and Bobich, 2002). Other adaptations to drought include a protective epidermis covered by a thick waxy waterproof cuticle and a shallow root system with surface 'rain roots' enabling the plant to exploit light rains (Sudzuki Hills, 1995).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
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 Preferred < 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 Tolerated > 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 Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
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 Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -8
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 16 28
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 30 36
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 10 14

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration58number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall3001500mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Bimodal
Summer

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Cactoblastis cactorum Herbivore Plants|Whole plant New South Wales; Western Australia
Chelinidea tabulata Herbivore Plants|Whole plant
Dactylopius opuntiae Herbivore Plants|Whole plant New South Wales; Western Australia

Notes on Natural Enemies

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At least 17 insects and mites have been identified feeding on O. stricta within its native range (Mann, 1969), which is assumed to be a conservative estimate. The diversity of associated natural enemies is highest on mainland USA and is considerably less on Caribbean islands. Several were introduced to Australia for the biological control of the two O. stricta subspecies but only three species have eventually become established; the coreid bug, Chelinidea tabulata, the cerambycid beetle, Moneilema variolare and the cochineal, Dactylopius opuntiae (Julien and Griffiths, 1998). A further introduction of a cactus-feeding insect was made that originated from South America; the pyralid moth Cactoblastis cactorum, originating from other Opuntia species native to Argentina and which readily accepted O. stricta as a new host in Australia and other countries. This new association proved to be devastating to populations of O. stricta in Australia and ended in the most spectacularly successful biological control programme in the history of weed control (Dodd, 1940; Moran and Zimmermann, 1984).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

O. stricta spreads by seed and vegetatively. Vegetative reproduction is by means of cladodes or stem fragments that dislocate easily from the mother plant and can root and develop into new plants whenever environmental conditions are favourable. Dislodged cladodes usually remain near the mother plants where they take root and develop into new plants resulting in clumped infestations. Terminal cladodes dislocate easily from the mother plants and can root and develop into new plants wherever they land on soil. This explains why plants of varying sizes are found together in clumps of several metres in diameter. Seeds are also carried long distances by water after heavy rains.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Fruits are eaten by a range of animals including among birds, rodents, and monkeys. Long-distance dispersal occurs via seeds that are carried by animals that feed on the fruit (Lotter et al., 1999). Seeds are scarified when passing through animals, which results in high germination rates (Reinhardt et al., 1999). In South Africa, baboons and elephants feed extensively on the ripe fruit and have contributed to the rapid dispersal of the plant in the Kruger National Park (Hoffmann et al., 1998).

Accidental Introduction

Stem fragments are spread by becoming attached to animals, footwear and vehicles. They may also be dispersed by floodwaters and in dumped garden waste (ISSG, 2018; Queensland Government, 2018).

Intentional Introduction

Initially, O. stricta plants were established as garden ornamentals from where they started to disperse into both disturbed and undisturbed sites. The ability of O. stricta to reproduce vegetatively and through seeds explains its ability to spread and form dense stands so effectively wherever it establishes.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Digestion and excretionWild animals, birds Yes
DisturbanceCladode movement and establishment Yes
Escape from confinement or garden escapee.g. Kruger National Park Yes
Flooding and other natural disastersSpreading seed Yes
Hedges and windbreaksIntentional farm-farm transfer as a hedging plant Yes
Internet salesFrom mail order catalogues Yes
Landscape improvementAs an ornamental Yes Yes
Ornamental purposesAs an ornamental Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Clothing, footwear and possessionsAny vegetative part and seeds Yes
Plants or parts of plantsAs an ornamental Yes
WaterIn floods, rain, etc. Yes

Plant Trade

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Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport
Bark
Bulbs/Tubers/Corms/Rhizomes
Flowers/Inflorescences/Cones/Calyx
Fruits (inc. pods)
Growing medium accompanying plants
Leaves
Roots
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants
Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches
True seeds (inc. grain)
Wood

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Animal/plant collections None
Animal/plant products None
Biodiversity (generally) Negative
Crop production None
Cultural/amenity Negative
Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative
Fisheries / aquaculture None
Forestry production None
Human health None
Livestock production Negative
Native fauna Negative
Native flora Negative
Rare/protected species Negative
Tourism Negative
Trade/international relations None
Transport/travel None

Economic Impact

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Browsing animals can sustain injuries to their mouth and gut by ingesting the fruit that are covered in small spines. Animals tend to avoid infested areas and so the land becomes useless for livestock farming and this increases grazing pressure on uninfested areas. A survey of farmers in southern Madagascar considered O. stricta to be an economic problem due to loss of livestock (Larsson, 2004). Access to infested areas is restricted for other productive uses. In 1940, Dodd reported that about 24 million hectares were infested with O. stricta in Australia of which half was so densely infested it was unproductive.

Environmental Impact

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Opuntia stricta is a serious problem, mostly in arid and semiarid habitats. This species has been nominated among the "100 World's Worst" invaders by the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group (Lowe et al., 2000).  Opuntia stricta grows forming dense mono-specific stands that completely disrupt habitats by displacing native species, reducing native biodiversity and modifying successional patterns. It is listed as a noxious weed in South Africa, Easter Africa, and Australia. A study in southern Madagascar, where O. stricta was introduced in the late 1950s, showed a gradient of increasing plant diversity with decreasing O. stricta density as the survey moved further away from the introduction site (Brolin, 2004). Robertson et al. (2011) investigated the local impact of O. stricta infestation on assemblages of beetle and spider species in the Kruger National Park, South Africa and recorded a negative impact on beetle diversity and abundance. 

Social Impact

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Opuntia stricta can form dense stands, restricting human access to areas and causing injury from the plant's spines. In protected areas, infestations also have a negative effect on aesthetics and recreation. In South Africa, it is invading national parks such as Pilanesberg and Kruger (Nikodinoska et al., 2014). In Easter Africa, people have abandoned homes and villages as a result of the invasion and spread of this cactus species (BioNET-EAFRINET, 2018).

Risk and Impact Factors

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Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in 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
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Gregarious
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Conflict
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts cultural/traditional practices
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Negatively impacts tourism
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
  • Transportation disruption
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - smothering
  • Hybridization
  • Rapid growth
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
  • Difficult/costly to control

Uses

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Opuntia stricta is extensively commercialized as ornamental and hedge plant. When planted in pots or in gardens in dry areas it requires minimal watering to survive. Unlike O. ficus-indica and other Opuntia species, the cladodes of O. stricta are not palatable and there are no records of any of the many browsers in the Kruger National Park, South Africa feeding on this species. Its cladodes are not reported to be eaten by any mammal even during the most severe droughts. Being unpalatable to livestock, having spines and a dense, low-growing form means that O. stricta has also been used as a hedge plant. This species is also used for the extraction of betacyanine from the fruits (Merin et al., 1987). This red colourant is used in certain dairy products such as yogurts and also in the production of jams and juices. Plants are also cultivated for medicinal and culinary uses (ISSG, 2018).

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Amenity
  • Boundary, barrier or support
  • Landscape improvement

Fuels

  • Fuelwood

General

  • Botanical garden/zoo

Human food and beverage

  • Food additive

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Ornamental

  • garden plant
  • Potted plant

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Opuntia stricta is very similar to Opuntia dillenii and intermediates between the two species have been reported. It is also similar to Opuntia ficus-indica, Opuntia streptacantha, Opuntia monacantha and Opuntia tomentosa. These species can be distinguished by the following differences (Queensland Government, 2018):

  • Opuntia stricta is a low-growing plant (usually 50-100 cm tall) with relatively large flattened and elongated stem segments. These stem segments are hairless and generally have few spines (sometimes one or two large spines are present) on the small raised bumps (i.e. areoles) on their surfaces. The flowers are bright yellow and the fruit reddish-purple.

  • Opuntia dillenii is a low-growing plant (usually 50-100 cm tall) with relatively large flattened and elongated stem segments. These stem segments are hairless and have groups of 1-7 large spines on most of the small raised bumps (i.e. areoles) on their surfaces. The flowers are bright yellow and the fruit reddish-purple.

  • Opuntia ficus-indica is a relatively tall shrubby or tree-like plant (usually 1.5-3 m tall) with very large flattened and elongated stem segments. These stem segments are hairless and do not have any spines on the small raised bumps (i.e. areoles) on their surfaces. It has yellow flowers and reddish coloured fruit.

  • Opuntia streptacantha is a relatively tall and sometimes tree-like plant (usually 2-4 m tall) with flattened and egg-shaped (i.e. obovate) to almost circular (i.e. orbicular) stem segments. These stem segments are hairless and have groups of 3-20 small white spines on most of the small raised bumps (i.e. areoles) on their surfaces. It has yellow flowers and dull red or yellowish coloured fruit.

  • Opuntia monacantha is a relatively tall shrub or tree-like plant (usually 2-5 m tall) with flattened and elongated stem segments. These stem segments are hairless and have one or two large spines on most of the small raised bumps (i.e. areoles) on their surfaces. It has yellow flowers and reddish-purple fruit, and some of its stem segments droop towards the ground during fruiting.

  • Opuntia tomentosa is a tall plant that is tree-like in appearance (up to 6 m tall) with flattened and elongated stem segments. These stem segments are velvety hairy (i.e. finely pubescent) and do not have any spines on the small raised bumps (i.e. areoles) on their surfaces. It has orange flowers and reddish-purple fruit. 

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.

Mechanical control

Mechanical control of O. stricta infestations includes methods such as digging, burning, crushing and dragging out the plants with animals or machines. However, some of these methods have been tried in Australia with little success. As the smallest part of a cladode is able to root and grow when in contact with the soil, mechanical disturbances that cause the plants to break and collapse often result in considerable vegetative regrowth and even an increase in invasion.

Chemical control

Chemical control of O. stricta began in 1916 in Australia when one of the first herbicides, arsenic pentoxide, was released for control (Mann, 1970). However, the infestations were already too far advanced for chemical control to make any impact. It was also too expensive and was only applied in scattered and isolated infestations. Today, more advanced and less toxic hormone herbicides are registered for the control of various invasive Opuntia species and include picloram, trichlopyr and combinations of these mostly as water-based formulations (Pritchard, 1993). In South Africa, the inorganic arsenic-based herbicide, MSMA is used for control; small plants receive a cover spray whereas larger plants are stem-injected (Grobler et al., 2000) and MSMA is considerably less expensive than hormone-based herbicides. In South Africa and Australia, these herbicides were made available to landowners at subsidized prices. By law, landowners had to apply control measures and properties are still regularly inspected to evaluate the efficacy of control operations. Due to the high costs of chemical control, most landowners in both countries are reverting to biological or integrated control (Hoffmann et al., 1998) although chemical control is still used to kill isolated plants or small new infestations. In Portugal, stem injections of glyphosate in the summer were found to be the easiest and most effective way of controlling small invasions of O. stricta (Monteiro et al., 2005).

Biological control

The release of the cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, in 1926 to biologically control O. stricta that had invaded about 24 million ha in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia resulted in spectacular control of the weed during the following nine years. Dodd (1940) wrote “…the most optimistic scientific opinion could not have foreseen the extent and completeness of the destruction. The spectacle of mile after mile of heavy (prickly) pear growth collapsing en masse and disappearing in the short space of a few years did not appear to fall within the bounds of possibility”. Today remnant infestations of O. stricta are limited to regions where C. cactorum is less effective (Hosking et al., 1994).

The cochineal, Dactylopious opuntiae, was first released in Australia in 1921 and provided excellent control of dense stands, but by 1928 there was a rapid decrease in cochineal populations following the major destruction of the weed by C. cactorum. Cochineal is still widely used as an effective biocontrol agent in areas where C. cactorum is less effective such as high-lying areas of New South Wales, Australia. The insects have limited dispersal abilities in low host-plant density situations and manual dispersal of infested cladodes to uninfested plants is necessary to ensure that maximum benefits are derived from this insect (Mann, 1970; Hosking et al., 1994). Fifty years later the biological control of prickly pears in Australia has continued to be satisfactory. Recent infestations have been of relatively minor significance except for a few localities along the coast (White, 1980). In these areas, O. stricta showed a high rate of seedling germination and resistance against the cactus moth, presumably caused by water and nutrient stress, where it grows near the ecological limits of prickly pear growth.

In South Africa, serious infestations of O. stricta only became apparent in the 1970s with large infestations reported from the Kruger National Park. After the release of C. cactorum to these remote infestations the insect became well established and had a striking effect on both the density and average size of the cactus plants in both dense and sparse infestations. However, C. cactorum caused fragmentation of mainly large plants resulting in small fragments taking root and producing many new plants, resulting in a higher density of small plants. Overall, C. cactorum has not reached levels required for satisfactory control and excessive ant predation of eggs along with baboon predation of larvae may contribute to the lack of adequate control (Hoffmann et al., 1998).

Attempts to establish the cochineal, D. opuntiae, which was so effective on O. ficus-indica, failed. In 1997, a new biotype was introduced from Australia, which showed a strong preference for O. stricta and closely related species (Githure et al., 1999; Volchansky et al., 1999). After its release in the large infestations in the Kruger National Park, their increase was dramatic, and large infestations have totally succumbed to insect attack. Control is now aimed at manually spreading the insect to all clumps and large plants as a substitute for chemical control (Hoffmann et al., 1999).

Of great concern are the new invasions reported from several developing countries which have limited resources to cope with such invasions and where the concept of biological weed control is new and viewed with scepticism. The introduction of C. cactorum will certainly never become an option in these countries because of the threat to other commercially cultivated Opuntia species, mainly O. ficus-indica. Guarantees about the sustainability of the host-specificity of the 'stricta' cochineal biotype of D. opuntiae, and that it would not feed on O. ficus-indica, are quite convincing provided that cross-breeding with other biotypes is excluded (Hoffmann et al., 2002). However, such guarantees may not convince those unaccustomed to biological weed control, to allow the introduction of host-specific cochineal biotypes for biological control. Few options for control then remain other than mechanical and chemical controls that have been shown to be impractical and uneconomical.

Integrated control

Integrated control of O. stricta comprises taking full advantage of biological and chemical control. Large plants and clumps are infested with the "stricta" biotype of D. opuntiae and efforts made to ensure that C. cactorum is always present. Chemical control can then be limited to the periphery of the infestations to prevent further spread of the weed to uninfested areas (Reinhardt et al., 1999).

References

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Contributors

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27/11/2007 Updated by:

Nick Pasiecznik, Consultant, France

18/04/2018 Updated by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, US

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