Leaf cactus (Pereskia aculeata)

Also known as: Satan plant, Barbados gooseberry

Leaf cactus is a climbing plant with clusters of spines 1-5 cm long. It can injure people and animals and form dense thickets that smother and kill other plants.

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How does this weed affect you?

Leaf cactus is a very spiny plant that forms large impenetrable clumps. It can:

  • smother and kill other plants
  • collapse trees under its weight
  • restrict access to land and waterways
  • reduce soil stability by killing native vegetation, especially along riverbanks
  • injure people, livestock, pets and native animals
  • reduce habitat for native animals.

Leaf cactus threatens eucalyptus woodlands and forests. It also could severely impact timber plantations.

What does it look like?

Leaf cactus is a spiny, perennial, climbing shrub that attaches itself to other plants and tangles around trees like a vine. It can reach up to 12 m into the canopy. 

Leaves are:

  • green on top and sometimes purplish underneath
  • up to 11 cm long and 5 cm wide
  • oval or oblong with pointed tips
  • waxy and slightly succulent
  • on short stalks 3-6 mm long.

The leaves will fall off in very dry conditions or after cold weather. 

Flowers are:

  • white or pale yellow, sometimes aging to pink
  • up to 5.5 cm wide
  • fragrantly scented
  • spiny
  • usually grouped together in bunches
  • present in summer and autumn.

Fruit are:

  • green ripening to yellow or orange-yellow
  • 2.5–4.5 cm wide
  • round and surrounded by leafy sepals
  • edible, usually containing only one seed.

Seeds are:

  • brown or black
  • up to 5 mm wide.

Spines:

There are two types of spines:

  • long, slender spines 1-5 cm long in clusters along the trunk
  • short, curved spines 3–5 mm long, in pairs along the branches.

Where is it found?

Most leaf cactus in NSW has been found on the North Coast. Plants have also been found on the Central Coast and in the Western and South East Regions of NSW.

Leaf cactus is native to the West Indies, Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil and Argentina. It was introduced to Australia as a garden ornamental in the 1920s.  

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Leaf cactus during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2022)
    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.

  • Estimated distribution of Leaf cactus in NSW (Map: NSW Noxious Weed Local Control Authorities, 2010)
    Map shows weed distribution and density estimated by local council weeds officers in 2010.

How does it spread?

Leaf cactus has been planted intentionally as an ornamental plant.

By seed

Plants produce viable seeds after 2 to 3 years. Birds spread the seeds in their droppings.

By plant parts

Leaf cactus can regrow from broken branches, cuttings and leaves. Plants can be spread by people dumping garden waste. Broken plant parts can be spread long distances by moving water

References

CRC for Australian Weed Management (2003) Weed Management Guide: Leaf cactus (Pereskia aculeata). CRC Weed Management.

CSIRO (updated 2021). Biocontrol of priority environmental weeds in NSW: Leaf cactus. Retreived 20 June 2022 from: https://research.csiro.au/nswweeds/leaf-cactus/

Morton, J. (1987). Barbados Gooseberry. p. 349–351. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.

Northern Territory Government (2012) Leaf cactus (Pereskia aculeata): NT Weed Risk Assessment Technical Report, Northern Territory Government, Darwin.

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. Retrieved 22 June 2022 from: http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Pereskia~aculeata

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 seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.

If you think you have found leaf cactus contact your local council weed officer. Weeds officers can advise the best control methods. Control effort that is poorly performed or not followed up can actually help spread a weed and worsen the problem.

Physical removal

Small individual plants may be dug up. Dispose of plants appropriately.

Manual removal of anything apart from very small plants is extremely difficult because leaf cactus is:

  • extremely spiny and risky to work with
  • it tangles around native vegetation up to 12 m high therefore very difficult to remove without damaging desirable plants
  • cut plants can still live in the canopy even if the stem is cut.

Disposal

To dispose of cactus bury them at 1 m deep or burn in a hot fire. Check disposal sites regularly. Alternatively contact your local council for disposal advice.

Chemical control

Spraying

Apply herbicide to actively growing plants. Ensure that all parts of the plant are covered with the herbicide mix. Re-treatment may be necessary, particularly with large clumps.

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
Comments: High volume application
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
Comments: Knapsack application
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
Comments: High volume application
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
Comments: Knapsack application
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: 1L per 75L of diesel
Comments: Spot spray
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 100L of water
Comments: High volume application
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: 50mL per 10L of water
Comments: knapsack application
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.
Greater Sydney Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Eradication)
The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
Hunter Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Prevention)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment. Notify local control authority if found.
North Coast Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Eradication)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. The plant should not be bought, sold, grown, carried or released into the environment.
*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 2022