Bunny ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys)

Also known as: yellow bunny ears, goldplush, teddy bear cactus, cacti

Bunny ears cactus has pairs of pads that are covered in tufts of golden bristles. It forms dense thickets that can outcompete other plants.

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How does this weed affect you?

Bunny ears cactus forms dense thickets and:

  • outcompetes native plants
  • limits movement of animals and people
  • competes with pasture plants reducing productivity
  • has barbed bristles which can easily detach and injure people and animals
  • can restrict recreational activities such as bushwalking and camping.

Livestock health

The barbed bristles can detach easily and be blown in the wind. They can cause eye irritation or blindness in cattle.

Human health

The barbed bristles can detach easily and cause skin irritation including blisters, itching and burning. They can also cause severe irritation to eyes. 

What does it look like?

Bunny ears cactus is a branched succulent shrub that grows up to 60 cm tall. It is usually a low, creeping plant with shallow roots. The pads grow in pairs and look like a pair of rabbit ears.

Pads (also called stems or cladodes) are:

  • bright green when young, pale green when older 
  • 10–15 cm long and 6–12 cm wide 
  • fleshy and covered in velvety hairs
  • oblong 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 5–10 mm apart
  • contain dense tufts of white, yellow to golden brown bristles each 5–10 mm long
  • usually don’t have spines, though rarely there may be one.

Flowers are:

  • yellow, sometimes tinged with red
  • 3–5 cm in diameter
  • usually on the top section of the pads on both the margins and the faces.

Fruit are:

  • red to purple
  • 3 cm in diameter
  • round
  • covered in areoles and bristles.

Bunny ears cactus is not known to produce seeds in Australia.

Variations and forms

There are natural variations in bunny ears cactus and some of these are intentionally selected and cultivated by collectors and growers. Opuntia microdasys form monstrosa (crazy bunny ears) has pads that are fused together and curved rather than flat. The biosecurity duty applies to all variations and forms. They must not be imported into the state, sold, bartered, exchanged or offered for sale.

Similar looking plants

Bunny ears cactus looks similar to blind cactus (Opuntia rufida), which has reddish-brown bristles. Blind cactus is also sometimes called bunny ears cactus.

Where is it found?

In NSW, there are infestations in the North West, Greater Sydney and Hunter regions.

Bunny ears is a native plant in northern Mexico. It was introduced into Australia as an ornamental plant.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Bunny ears cactus can tolerate a wide range of conditions. It grows best in open areas, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions and is very drought tolerant.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Bunny ears cactus 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?

Bunny ears cactus has mostly been spread by people growing it as an ornamental plant. They may or may not be aware that it should not be grown.

Plant parts

New plants can grow from parts of the stem or fruit when they come in contact with the soil. These plant parts can be spread by:

  • moving water
  • sticking to animals or vehicles
  • people dumping garden waste.

 By seed

Bunny ears cactus is not known to produce seeds in Australia.

References

Mondragón-Jacobo, C., & Pérez-González, S. (2001). Cactus (Opuntia spp.) as forage. (Vol. 169). Food & Agriculture Org.

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. Retreived 8 July 2021 from https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Opuntia~microdasys

Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. (2020). Factsheet Restrictive Invasive Plant: Bunny ears Opuntia microdasys. QLD DAF.

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.

Smith, G. F., Figueiredo, E., Boatwright, J. S., & Crouch, N. R. (2011). South Africa's ongoing Opuntia Mill.(Cactaceae) problem: the case of Opuntia microdasys (Lehm.) Pfeiff. Bradleya2011(29), 73-78.

Whiting, D. A. & Bristow, J. H. (1975). Dermatitis and keratoconjunctivitis caused by a prickly pear (Opuntia microdasys)South African Medical Journal49(35), 1445-1446.

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

Do not grow bunny ears cactus 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 bunny ears cactus 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 bristles.

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

Biological control

There are no biological control agents available for bunny ears cactus.

Chemical control

Spray actively growing plants. 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