adaptive-background

Opuntia

Preferred Scientific Name: Opuntia stricta

Opuntia (Opuntia stricta) was introduced to Africa and Australia as an ornamental plant. It has since spread throughout these continents and many more countries worldwide. The horticultural trade has been blamed for the spread as it is often imported for gardens and displays.

Opuntia Cactus
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Why is it a problem?

Cactus species thrive in arid and semi-arid regions making valuable pasture species inaccessible to livestock and blocking access to water and other resources. The spines on the fruit, when consumed by livestock, cause abscesses and secondary infections while the seeds block the stomach resulting in death. The spines on the cladodes can pierce the eyes of livestock causing blindness.

Impacts

  • Harmful to livestock
  • Loss of land
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods

What’s the solution?

Manual control

Manual removal is often unsuccessful as the plant is able to completely regrow if the smallest bit of root is left in the soil. 

Chemical control

By time herbicides began being used as a control method, most clusters of Opuntia were too mature for chemical control to be effective. Small, isolated clusters can be controlled, but this method of control requires substantial investment, for a very small effect.

Biological control

The introduction of Cactoblastis cactorum has been used across Africa to try to control Opuntia. There has been a noticeable reduction in both the size and the density of the plants since the release. Unfortunately, it has been reported that Cactorum causes the plant to fragment, which can cause it to root and regrow. 

Stories related to this content

Bernard Mutiko

Bernard Mutiko

Kenya

Bernard Mutiko is a farmer from Machakos in Kenya. He has a small farm where he keeps a few livestock.

Parsito Kitongo

Parsito Kitongo

Kenya

Parsito is a pastoralist in the Laikipia District of Kenya. Opuntia infests his land, which he used to graze his livestock on. He is finding it harder and harder to protect his livelihood from the invasive cactus.

Fact file

Name Opuntia

Distribution

Asia, Africa, North/South/Central America, Oceania &Europe

For more information on distribution, view the full datasheet available here

Habitat

Can thrive in most conditions, prefers sandy or disturbed soil

Natural enemies

At least 17 different mites and insects feed on Opuntia within its native range. Three main enemies have been adopted as biocontrol methods: Chelinidea tabulate, Moneilema variolare and Cactoblastis cactorum

Invasiveness

Fast growing, spreads quickly, thrives in disturbed areas, highly adaptive and resistant to control methods

Likelihood of entry

Difficult to control and often introduced deliberately

Climate

Humid/ hot

Plant type

Herbaceous

Further reading

Visit our online resource of research and full text articles and journals
Invasive Species Compendium

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