Aaron's beard prickly pear (Opuntia leucotricha)

Also known as: Aaron's beard cactus, cacti

Aaron’s beard prickly pear is a cactus with large succulent pads covered in white spines. It can form dense thickets and the spines can injure people and animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Aaron's beard prickly pear can outcompete native plants, reducing food and habitat for native animals. It has sharp spines up to 5 cm long that:

  • cause painful injuries to people, livestock, working dogs and pets
  • injure and sometimes kill wildlife that get trapped in the spines
  • devalue wool and hides and prevent shearing
  • get stuck around the mouth of lambs or calves and prevent them from feeding.

It also forms dense thickets that prevent movement of animals and people. This means that:

  • livestock may not be able to access feed 
  • mustering is difficult
  • access to watering points is reduced
  • recreational activities such as bushwalking and camping are restricted.

What does it look like?

Aaron's beard prickly pear is a branched, succulent cactus that grows up to 2.5 m tall and often has a trunk.

Pads (also called stems or cladodes) are:

  • light-green to grey-green 
  • 16–30 cm long and 12–26 cm wide 
  • fleshy and covered in minute hairs
  • oval to circular.

Cacti pads have bumps on the surface called areoles. Barbed bristles (glochids), spines, leaves, flowers, fruit, roots and new shoots all grow out of the areoles.

Areoles:

  • are  0.9–2 cm apart
  • are brown and woolly
  • contain 2–6 spines when young and 10–18 spines when older
  • have brown barbed bristles.

Spines are:

  • white
  • 1.5–4 cm long
  • flexible, sometimes curved.

Flowers are:

  • yellow, sometimes tinged with red
  • 5–7 cm in diameter
  • usually on the top section of the pads
  • present late spring to summer.

Fruit are:

  • pale yellow sometimes pinkish
  • barrel-haped
  • 2.5–3 cm in diameter
  • slightly hairy.

Aaron's beard prickly pear is not known to produce seeds in Australia.

Similar looking plants

Aaron's beard prickly pear looks similar to wheel cactus (Opuntia robusta), which has larger pads and red fruit.

Where is it found?

In NSW, there are infestations in the North West region.

Aaron's beard prickly pear is native to central Mexico. It was introduced into Australia as an ornamental plant.

What type of environment does it grow in?

This cactus grows in arid, semi-arid and warm temperate climates. It grows best on well drained soils.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Aaron's beard prickly pear during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2021)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

How does it spread?

Plant parts

New plants can grow from parts of the stem when they come in contact with the soil. These plant parts can be spread by water, sticking to animals or vehicles and by people dumping garden waste.

 By seed

Aarons beard prickly pear is not known to produce seeds in Australia.

References

Queensland Government (nd) Prohibited invasive plant Aarons beard cactus. Retrieved 9 September 2021 from: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/1474066/aarons-beard-cactus.pdf

Sheehan, M. R., & Potter, S. (2017). Managing Opuntioid Cacti in Australia: Best Practice Control Manual for Austrocylindropuntia, Cylindropuntia and Opuntia Species. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

VicFlora (2016). Flora of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Retrieved 9 September 2021 from: https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/daef2866-3815-4264-b4a3-3cd7f7ecdfc5

More information

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Control

Successful weed control relies on follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new plants. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.

Prevention

To prevent the spread of Aaron's beard prickly pear, do not grow it in gardens or pots. Do not take cuttings of unknown cactus plants to grow out or share with others. 

Stop the spread of cactus into new areas by checking clothing, vehicles and equipment for plant parts before leaving an area that has any cactus weeds.

Disposal

Dispose of Aaron's beard prickly pear by burying it at least one metre deep or by burning in a hot fire. Contact your local council for information about other disposal options. 

Physical control

Dig up small or isolated plants using a mattock or other tools. Wear appropriate protective clothing and gloves to protect against injuries from the spines and bristles.

Larger infestations may be controlled by machinery. Ensure the roots are dug out and that all plant parts are disposed of appropriately.

Biological control

There are currently no biological control agents available for Aaron's beard prickly pear.

Chemical control

Spray actively growing plants and cover all parts of the plant with herbicide. Check treated plants and control new growth.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 14442 Expires 30/06/2023
Picloram 100 g/L + Triclopyr 300 g/L + Aminopyralid 8 g/L (Grazon Extra®)
Rate: 500 mL per 100 L of water plus 0.5% Uptake spray oil
Comments: Spot spray application. Spray actively growing plants. See permit for critical use comments.
Withholding period: Where product is used to control woody weeds in pastures there is a restriction of 12 weeks for use of treated pastures for making hay and silage; using hay or other plant material for compost, mulch or mushroom substrate; or using animal waste from animals grazing on treated pastures for compost, mulching, or spreading on pasture/crops.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 14442 Expires 30/06/2023
Picloram 100 g/L + Triclopyr 300 g/L + Aminopyralid 8 g/L (Grazon Extra®)
Rate: 50 mL per 10 L of water plus 50 mL Uptake spray oil.
Comments: Knapsack application. A spray volume of 3 L to 4 L per 10 m2 should be used. See permit for critical use comments.
Withholding period: Where product is used to control woody weeds in pastures there is a restriction of 12 weeks for use of treated pastures for making hay and silage; using hay or other plant material for compost, mulch or mushroom substrate; or using animal waste from animals grazing on treated pastures for compost, mulching, or spreading on pasture/crops.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 14442 Expires 30/06/2023
Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L (Various products)
Rate: 500 mL per 100 L of water plus 0.5% Uptake spray oil
Comments: Spot spray application. Spray actively growing plants. See permit for critical use comments.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 14442 Expires 30/06/2023
Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L (Various products)
Rate: 50 mL per 10 L of water plus 50 mL Uptake spray oil.
Comments: Knapsack application. A spray volume of 3 L to 4 L per 10 m2 should be used. See permit for critical use comments.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 14442 Expires 30/06/2023
Triclopyr 600 g/L (Garlon® 600)
Rate: 1 L per 75 L of diesel.
Comments: Spot spray application. Spray actively growing plants. See permit for critical use comments.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 14442 Expires 30/06/2023
Triclopyr 600 g/L (Garlon® 600)
Rate: 3L per 100 L of water plus 0.5% Uptake spray oil.
Comments: Spray actively growing plants. See permit for critical use comments.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 14442 Expires 30/06/2023
Triclopyr 600 g/L (Garlon® 600)
Rate: 50 mL per 10 L of water plus 50 mL Uptake spray oil.
Comments: Knapsack application. A spray volume of 3 L to 4 L per 10 m2 should be used. See permit for critical use comments.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
All of NSW Prohibition on certain dealings
Must not be imported into the state, sold, bartered, exchanged or offered for sale.
Central West Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets.
Western Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers mitigate the risk of the plant spreading from their land. Land managers mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. The plant or parts of the plant are not traded, carried, grown or released into the environment. Land managers reduced impact of the plant on priority assets (grazing, conservation and urban areas).
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244 or send an email to weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Reviewed 2021