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Opuntia (prickly pear genus)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Core Eudicots > Order: Caryophyllales > Familty: Cactaceae

About 187 species (North and South America), with 11 species naturalised in southern Africa, and a further 10 species that are cultivated in the region.

Species naturalised in southern Africa

List from Plants of Southern Africa - an Online Checklist (SANBI) with some nomenclatural changes and adding in Opuntia monacantha and Opuntia humifusa, which are evidently naturalised in South Africa (Zimmermann et al. 2004). Opuntia vulgaris is removed because according to the Declared List of Invaders, Opuntia monacantha has previously been incorrectly identified as Opuntia vulgaris. For Opuntia rosea, see Cylindropuntia fulgida. For Opuntia exaltata, see Austrocylindropuntia subulata; for Opuntia imbricata, see Cylindropuntia imbricata; for Opuntia leptocaulis, see Cylindropuntia leptocaulis.

Opuntia aurantiaca (Jointed cactus)

A declared Category 1 invasive plant in South Africa.

Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann's prickly pear, Calico cactus)

[= Opuntia tardospina, Opuntia lindheimeri]

Native to southern USA. Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri (Texas prickly pear) is a declared Category 1 invasive plant in South Africa (listed as Opuntia lindheimeri).


Opuntia ficus-indica (Mission prickly pear, Sweet prickly pear, Boereturksvy, Grootdoringturksvy)

A declared Category 1 invasive plant in South Africa. See Flora of Zimbabwe.


Opuntia humifusa (Large flowered prickly pear, Creeping prickly pear)

A declared Category 1 invasive plants in South Africa.


Opuntia microdasys (Bunny ears, Polka dot cactus)

Native to Mexico.


Opuntia monacantha (Cochineal prickly pear, Drooping prickly pear, Suurturksvy, Luisiesturksvy)

[= Opuntia vulgaris]

A declared Category 1 invasive plants in South Africa.


Opuntia robusta (Nopal tapón, Bartolona, Silver dollar)

Native to Mexico.


Opuntia salmiana


Opuntia spinulifera (Saucepan cactus, Large roundleaved prickly pear,Blouturksvy, Groot rondeblaar turksvy)

A declared Category 1 invasive plant in South Africa.


Opuntia stricta (Pest pear of Australia, Suurturksvy)

[= Opuntia macrantha]

Native from the southern USA to Venezuela. A declared Category 1 invasive plant in South Africa.


Other species, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002). The names of the following species listed by Glen have changed:

Opuntia chaffeyi

Native to Mexico.


Opuntia dejecta (Spiny nopal)

Native to Panama?


Opuntia elata

Native to Paraguay?


Opuntia leucotricha (Duraznillo Blanco, Nopal Blanco)

Native to Mexico.


Opuntia macrocentra (Black-spine prickly pear)

Native to southern USA and Mexico.


Opuntia polyacantha

Native from Canada to Mexico.


Opuntia pusilla (Creeping cactus)

[= Opuntia drummondii]

Native to the USA.


Opuntia schumannii

Native to northern South America.


Opuntia stenopetala (Tuna colorada)

[= Opuntia grandis]

Native to Mexico.


Opuntia tomentosa (Woolly-joint prickly pear)

Native to Mexico.


Opuntia [cultivars]

At least 28 different Opuntia cultivars have been grown in southern Africa.



  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.

  • Glen, H.F. 2003. Cactaceae. In Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds), Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14: 335-336. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria. 

  • Zimmermann H.G., Bloem S. and Klein H. 2004. Biology, History, Threat, Surveillance and Control of the Cactus Moth, Cactoblastis cactorum. IAEA, Vienna.



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