Chicken dance cactus (Opuntia schickendantzii)

Also known as: lion's tongue cactus, cacti

Chicken dance cactus has elongated fleshy pads with short spines and bristles. The spines can injure people and animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Chicken dance cactus competes with other plants. It has sharp spines up to 1 cm long that can:

  • 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 can prevent movement of animals and people. This means that:

  • animals 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?

Chicken dance cactus is an erect succulent shrub usually 0.7 to 1.8 m tall.  It often has a trunk which may be up to 1 m tall.

Pads (also called stems or cladodes) are:

  • dull green
  • 10–35 cm long and 3-6 cm wide 
  • oblong and flattened
  • fleshy and covered in velvety hairs.

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 close together
  • are woolly and contain dense tufts of yellowish brown bristles 
  • have 1-3 straight greyish spines 4-10 mm long.

Flowers are:

  • 4–5 cm in diameter
  • yellow, sometimes tinged with pink
  • may be orange as they get older.

Fruit are:

  • green
  • oval shaped
  • 1.5 cm in diameter and 2.5-3.5 cm long

Chicken dance cactus is not known to produce seeds in Australia and it is often sterile in its native range.

Where is it found?

It has naturalised in a few locations in NSW including the Greater Sydney, Riverina and the South East regions.

It is native to Argentina and Bolivia.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Chicken dance cactus can grow in a wide variety of soils and climates.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Chicken dance 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?

Chicken dance cactus has mostly been spread by people growing it as an ornamental plant. 

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 water, sticking to animals or vehicles and by people dumping garden waste.

By seed

Chicken dance cactus is not known to produce seeds in Australia.

References

Majure, L. C., & Puente, R. (2014). Phylogenetic relationships and morphological evolution in Opuntia s.str. and closely related members of tribe Opuntieae. Succulent Plant Research Vol 8.

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. Retreived 14 September 2021 from https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Opuntia~schickendantzii

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.

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 chicken dance 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 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 spines and  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

The cochineal insect, Dactylopius ceylonicus can control chicken dance cactus. Biological control is suitable for areas that are environmentally sensitive, too difficult to access or where other methods would be too expensive. Cochineal insects are less effective on scattered infestations and may require redistribution at these sites.

There are several species of cochineal that look very similar. It is important to use the correct species of cochineal for each species of cactus. Contact your local council weeds officer for information about using cochineal to control cactus.

Chemical control

Herbicides are especially useful for sparse, scattered infestations. 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