Rope pear (Cylindropuntia imbricata)

Also known as: Devil's rope pear, prickly pear

Rope pear is a small very spiny shrub or tree cactus with rope-like branches. It can injure people and animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Rope pear is an invasive spiny cactus. The spines can:

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

Dense thickets of this cactus restrict the movement of animals and people, so that:

  • livestock cannot move to access feed 
  • mustering is difficult
  • access to watering points is reduced
  • recreation such as bushwalking or bird watching is restricted.  

Rope pear damages natural environments by excluding and out-competing native plants. They also harbour pests including foxes, rabbits and fruit fly. 

What does it look like?

Rope pear is a small tree or shrub that grows 1-3 m tall. It sometimes has a short trunk covered in spines. Cacti pads have bumps on the surface called areoles. Spines, bristles, leaves, flowers, fruit, roots and new shoots all grow out of the areoles. The fleshy leaves on rope pear are less than 2.5 mm long and only present for a few weeks on young plants.

Stems (pads or cladodes) are:

  • fleshy and spiny
  • dull grey-green
  • 15-40 cm long and 3-5 cm in diameter
  • rope-like shapes growing at all angles
  • lumpy or corrugated.

Spines are:

  • 8-30 mm long
  • white to cream
  • covered in a papery sheath
  • in groups of 2-12 per areole.

Rope pear also has yellow barbed bristles (called glochids) that are 1 mm long.

Flowers are:

  • 4-9 cm wide and up to 6 cm long
  • dark pink to purply-red
  • near the end of stems.

Fruit are:

  • fleshy and spineless
  • egg-shaped
  • up to 4 cm long
  • greenish-yellow when ripe.

Fruit can grow attached to each other, forming a chain.

Seeds are:

  • 2.5-4 mm long
  • yellow to light brown.

Roots are:

  • fibrous
  • not very deep.

Similar plants

There are over 30 different species of cactus in Australia. It can be hard to tell them apart. Plants can have more than one common name and sometimes two or more different species are all called the common name.

Where is it found?

The plant is common around mining towns in western New South Wales. It is a weed in all other Australia states and territories, except Tasmania.

It is native to the United States of America and central Mexico.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Rope pear is mostly found in semi-arid areas but can grow in many different soil types and landscapes. It is found:

  • in disturbed sites
  • abandoned homesteads
  • along roadsides
  • in pastures and rangelands
  • in open native woodlands grasslands
  • along waterways.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Rope pear during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2020)
    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?

By seed

Rope cactus produces fruit with viable seeds. The fruit are eaten and seeds are spread by birds and other animals. Seeds are also spread along waterways.

By plant parts

Plants can spread from stems, fruit and flowers. Any of these plant parts that touches the soil can form roots and new stems within a few weeks.  Parts can break off from the main plant and spread by attaching to animal fur, vehicles, clothing and shoes. Plants may also be spread by dumping garden waste.

References

Biosecurity Queensland (2016). Weeds of Australia Biosecuirty Queensland Edition: Cylindropuntia Imbricata Factheet. Retreived March 2019 from: https://keyserver.lucidcentral.org/weeds/data/media/Html/cylindropuntia_imbricata.htm

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Cylindropuntia~imbricata accessed June 2020.

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 (WA), Perth.

More information

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Control

Controlling rope cactus can be difficult because it spreads easily and can regrow after being sprayed with herbicide. Combining control options is the best way to kill plants.

It is important to follow up any control work to make sure the plant has not regrown. Return to control areas regularly to check progress and re-treat when needed.

Wear protective clothing, including gloves, boots, thick clothing and eyewear to stop injuries from spines.

Prevention

Stopping the spread of rope cactus is an important part of control programs. Do not plant any prickly pears in gardens. Dig out and dispose of any rope pears that are in gardens and dispose of them so that the seed cannot be spread. 

Physical removal

By hand

Seedlings and small plants can be dug out. Take care to remove the whole plant and any parts that have fallen off. Dispose of any plant parts appropriately to prevent regrowth or spread.

By machine

Machinery can be used to control large, thick infestations in some situations. It may be suitable if:

  • The area does not have any high value environmental, heritage or cultural sites that might be damaged by heavy machinery.
  • There are areas where plants can be disposed of without the chance of regrowth.

Disposal

To dispose of cacti bury them with at least 1 m of soil over the top or  burn in a hot fire. Check disposal sites regularly and control any seedlings.

Alternatively contact your local council for disposal advice.

This option should be used as part of an integrated approach. Follow up control with herbicides will probably be needed to manage regrowth.

Biological control

A scale insect (cochineal), Dactylopius tomentosus (cylindropuntia lineage), is an effective biocontrol agent for rope cactus. The insects don't move very well between rope pear sites, so they have to be introduced to new areas by hand. The insect sucks the sap from the plant, eventually causing it to collapse and die.

Biological control agents should be released in dense infestations of rope pear that cover large areas when other options are too hard or expensive. They will not work very well when plants are sparse and scattered

 If you would like to use biocontrol contact your local weeds officer.

Chemical control

Spot spraying

Spray actively growing plants and ensure that all of the plant is thoroughly covered. Add a spray oil to make the herbicide more effective.

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: Spot spray application, add 0.5 % Uptake spray oil.
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 (Grazon® DS)
Rate: 500 mL per 100 L of water
Comments: Spot spray application, add 0.5 % Uptake spray oil.
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.
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: 3 L per 100 L of water
Comments: Add 0.5% Uptake® spray oil.
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 dealings
Must not be imported into the State or sold
All species in the Cylindropuntia genus have this requirement
Central Tablelands Regional Recommended Measure*
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.
This Regional Recommended Measure applies to all species of Cylindropuntia
Central West Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. Land managers reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets.
This Regional Recommended Measure applies to all species of Cylindropuntia except Cylindropuntia rosea (Hudson pear)
North West Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate the risk of new weeds being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread from their land.
Western Regional Recommended Measure*
Land managers should mitigate spread from their land. Land managers reduce impact of plant on priority assets (grazing conservation and urban areas). 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 2020