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Weed Profile - Prickly Pear (Opuntia Species)

28th May 2020

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

Prickly pears include a number of plant species that were introduced and have become invasive in Australia.

Prickly pears (mostly Opuntia Stricta) were imported into Australia in the 19th century for use as a natural agricultural fence and in an attempt to establish a cochineal dye industry. Many of these, especially the Tiger Pear, quickly became widespread invasive species.


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


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

How it is spread

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

Herbicide control

  • Herbicides are effective.