Tiger pear (Opuntia aurantiaca)

Also known as: prickly pear, cactus, cacti

Tiger pear is a low spreading cactus. Its sharp spines can injure people and animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Tiger pear has sharp, barbed 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.

Tiger pear 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?

Tiger pear is a spreading or climbing cactus that rarely grows taller than 40 cm without support. It can grow up to 2 m high by climbing on other plants.

Stems (pads or cladodes) are:

  • dark green, sometimes red to purplish
  • very branched
  • like a flattened cylinder, sometimes round
  • 3.5–20 cm long and 1-5 cm thick
  • covered in small raised bumps (areoles) that have hair-like bristles and 1–7 longer spines in each.

Spines are:

  • grey or brown
  • 1–5 cm long
  • very sharp and rigid
  • barbed near the tips that makes them difficult to remove.

 Flowers are:

  • yellow
  • 2–5 cm in diameter
  • cup-shaped.

 Fruit are:

  • egg or pear-shaped with a flattened top
  • 2.0–3.5 cm long
  • green when young
  • red to purple when ripe
  • spiny.

 Leaves are:

  • very small (3–4 mm long)
  • cone-shaped
  • fall off when the stems are young. 

Similar looking plants

There are over 30 different species of cactus in Australia and it can be hard to tell some of them apart. Some cactus have more than one common name and sometimes two or more different species are referred to with the same common name.

Tiger pear looks similar to rope pear (Cylindropuntia imbricata). Rope pear has dark pink flowers and grows much taller (up to 3 m high).

Where is it found?

Tiger pear is very widespread across NSW, especially in North West, Central West and Hunter regions.

It is native to South America and was likely introduced in the late 1800s.  

What type of environment does it grow in?

Tiger pear grows in warm-temperate and dry subtropical climates with annual rainfall from 150 mm to over 800 mm. It grows in a wide variety of soil types and is very drought tolerant once established.

Tiger pear invades pastures, open woodlands, open shrublands, pastures, fence-lines, roadsides, stream-banks and is common along creeks and waterways.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Tiger pear during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2024)
    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

Tiger pear does not spread by seed. It does produce seeds but they are sterile. 

By plant parts

The stem segments of tiger pear detach easily from the main plant. New plants can grow from the fruit or small segments of the plant when they make contact with the soil. The plant parts are spread by:

  • attaching to wool or fur on animals
  • sticking to footwear or clothing
  • attaching to tyres or machinery
  • flowing water
  • dumping plant material from gardens. 

References

Harvey, K.J., McConnachie, A.J. Sullivan, P. Holtkamp, R. & Officer, D. (2021). Biological control of weeds: a practitioner's guide for south east Australia. New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Orange.

Parsons, W. T., & Cuthbertson, E. G. (2001). Noxious weeds of Australia. CSIRO publishing.

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. Retrieved 20 January 2021 from: https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Opuntia~aurantiaca

Queensland Government (2016). Weeds of Australia, Biosecurity Queensland edition Fact sheet: Opuntia aurantiaca Lindl. Retrieved 20 January 2021 from: https://keyserver.lucidcentral.org/weeds/data/media/Html/opuntia_aurantiaca.htm

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

Avoid driving or walking through areas with tiger pear. If you have been in an area with tiger pear, check tyres, under vehicles, caravans, footwear and machinery before leaving the infested area. Remove all plant parts using pliers or tongs. Dispose of them appropriately.

Disposal

Dispose of tiger 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. 

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

Biological control

Cochineal insects (Dactylopius austrinus) effectively control tiger pear, especially on core infestations. There are several species of Dactylopius that look similar but they each control different species of cactus. It is important to use the correct species of cochineal for each species of cactus. Contact your local weeds officer for information about using cochineal to control tiger pear.

There are also two moths that provide some control, but they are not as effective as the cochineal: the Cactoblastis moth (Cactoblastis cactorum) and the stem-boring moth (Tucumania tapiacola). The moths are widespread and there is no need for redistribution.

The cochineal insect controls tiger pear better than the moths during hot dry summers. Biological control is less effective in wetter years because it produces new cladodes faster than they can be controlled by biological control insects. 

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.


Picloram 100 g/L + Triclopyr 300 g/L + Aminopyralid 8 g/L (Grazon® Extra)
Rate: 500 mL in 100 L of water
Comments: Follow the label instructions as per Prickly pear (common). Spray actively growing plants. Thoroughly cover all of the plant with herbicide mix to the point of runoff. Regrowth may occur, so a follow-up application may be necessary. To improve uptake, add a paraffinic oil at the rate of 500 mL per 100 L of water.
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: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Triclopyr 240 g/L + Picloram 120 g/L (Access™ )
Rate: 1.0 L per 60 L of diesel
Comments: Apply as an overall spray, wetting all areas of the plant to ground level.
Withholding period: Nil
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L (Various products)
Rate: 500 mL per 100 L of water
Comments: Apply to actively growing plants. Follow the label instructions as per prickly pear common. To improve uptake, add a paraffinic oil at the rate of 500 mL per 100 L of water.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Triclopyr 600 g/L (Garlon® 600)
Rate: 3.0 L per 100 L of water
Comments: Spray actively growing plants. Thoroughly cover all of the plant to the point of runoff. To improve uptake add a paraffinic oil at the rate of 500 mL per 100 L of water.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Triclopyr 600 g/L (Garlon® 600)
Rate: 800 mL per 60 L of diesel.
Comments: Apply thoroughly as a foliar spray.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: 4 (previously group I), Disruptors of plant cell growth (Auxin mimics)
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 pest 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 Tablelands Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Asset Protection)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
Central West Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Asset Protection)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
Greater Sydney
City of Blacktown and Wollondilly Shire Council are classified as the core infestation area. An exclusion zone is established for the rest of the region.
Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Containment)
Whole of region: Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Within exclusion zone: Land managers should eradicate the plant from the land and keep the land free of the plant. A person should not deal with the plant, where dealings include but are not limited to buying, selling, growing, moving, carrying or releasing the plant. Notify local control authority if found. Within core infestation area: Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment.
Hunter Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Asset Protection)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
Murray Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Containment)
Whole of region: Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
North West Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Asset Protection)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land. A person should not buy, sell, move, carry or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
Western Regional Recommended Measure* (for Regional Priority - Asset Protection)
Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Land managers should mitigate spread of the plant from their land A person should not buy, sell, move, carry, or release the plant into the environment. Land managers should reduce the impact of the plant on assets of high economic, environmental and/or social value.
*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.

Reviewed 2024