Velvety tree pear (Opuntia tomentosa)

Also known as: prickly pear, tree pear, velvet tree pear, cactus, cacti

Velvety tree pear is a tree-like cactus whose pads are covered in fine velvety hairs. It outcompetes pasture grasses and native plants.

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How does this weed affect you?

Velvety tree pear is an invasive cactus that:

  • competes with native plants
  • reduces food and habitat for native animals
  • competes with pasture plants reducing productivity
  • has bristles and sometimes spines that can injure people and animals.

It forms dense thickets which:

  • reduce access to watering points
  • restrict access to feed for livestock and native animals
  • make mustering difficult
  • restrict recreational activities such as bushwalking and camping.
Livestock health

Young plants sometimes have spines and all have barbed bristles which can injure livestock. There is one case of suspected poisoning in cattle due to cyanogenic glycosides in velvety tree pear. 

What does it look like?

Velvety tree pear is a tree-like cactus that grows 2–6 m tall. Its trunk can have a diameter of up to 50 cm.

Pads (also called stems or cladodes) are

  • dull green or grey green
  • 15–30 cm long and 6–12 cm wide
  • oval, narrower at the base
  • flattened ( 1.5–2 cm thick)
  • covered in fine hairs giving the plant a velvety appearance.

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 at least 2 cm apart
  • maybe spineless or have up to 4 spines (especially on younger plants)
  • have clusters of yellow, barbed bristles each 1–2.5 mm long.

Spines are:

  • 1- 1.5 cm long
  • whitish to yellow.

Flowers are:

  • orange, sometimes with purplish-tinged outer segments
  • red when ripe
  • 4–5 cm wide
  • present in late spring–summer.

Fruit are:

  • 5 cm long
  • pear-shaped with a dimple at the top
  • covered in velvety hairs.

Similar looking plants

Velvety tree pear looks similar to some other prickly pears:

  • Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica), which does not have velvety hairs on the pads and usually has yellow flowers.
  • Common pear (Opuntia stricta), which has thinner hairless egg-shaped to elongated pads and bright yellow flowers.
  • Smooth tree pear (Opuntia monacantha), which usually has spines and has thinner, hairless, elongated pads. It also has bright yellow flowers.

Where is it found?

In NSW, velvety tree pear grows in the North West and Greater Sydney regions.

It is native to central Mexico. It has been in Australia since at least 1912 and may have been introduced as an ornamental plant.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Velvety tree pear grows in subtropical, semi-arid and warm temperate climates. It is very drought tolerant. It grows in

  • pastures and native grasslands
  • open woodlands
  • disturbed areas such as roadsides.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Velvety tree pear 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?

By seed

The seeds of velvety tree pear are viable and will sprout when there is enough moisture. Seeds can remain dormant in dry conditions for at least 18 months. Birds and other animals, including foxes, eat the fruit and spread the seeds in their droppings. Seeds can also be spread downstream by water.

By plant parts

Velvety tree pear can regrow from pad segments, fruit and flowers. If the pads have spines they can spread by attaching to animals, footwear and vehicles. Plants can also spread by people dumping garden waste.

References

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

McKenzie, R. (2020). Australia's poisonous plants, fungi and cyanobacteria: A guide to species of medical and veterinary importance. CSIRO PUBLISHING.

Olvera-Carrillo, Y., Márquez-Guzmán, J., Barradas, V. L., Sánchez-Coronado, M. E., & Orozco-Segovia, A. (2003). Germination of the hard seed coated Opuntia tomentosa SD, a cacti from the México valley. Journal of Arid Environments, 55(1), 29-42.

PlantNET (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. Retrieved 30 September 2021 from https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Opuntia~tomentosa

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

Prevention

To help prevent the spread of velvety tree pear:

  • Do not grow it in gardens or pots.
  • Do not take cuttings of unknown cactus plants to grow out or share with others.
  • Avoid driving through areas with cacti.
  • If you have been in an area with cacti check boots, equipment, vehicles, caravans, and machinery before leaving the infested area.
  • Remove all cactus plant parts using pliers or tongs and dispose of them appropriately.

Disposal

Dispose of velvety tree pear by burying it at least 1 m deep or by burning in a hot fire. Check disposal sites regularly and control any seedlings. 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.

Dense infestations or very large plants may be controlled by machinery if the site is not environmentally sensitive and access is suitable. Ensure the roots are dug out and that all plant parts are disposed of. Ensure that the machinery is cleaned of any plants part before leaving the site.

Biological control

The cochineal insect, Dactylopius opuntiae ‘stricta’ lineage can control velvety tree pear after several years. Cutting large plants (over 2 m tall) and stacking the stems will speed up control.

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

Spot spraying

Herbicides are especially useful for sparse, scattered infestations. Spray actively growing plants. Cover all parts of the plant with herbicide to the point of visible wetness. 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 in 100 L of water plus 0.5% Uptake spray oil
Comments: Apply to 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 3L to 4L per 10m2 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: Spray on 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 3L to 4L per 10m2 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


Triclopyr 240 g/L + Picloram 120 g/L (Access™ )
Rate: 1 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: 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*
The plant or parts of the plant are not traded, carried, grown or released into the environment. 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