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

Boereturksvy, Grootdoringturksvy [Afrikaans]

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 > Genus: Opuntia

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

Ecological interactions in southern Africa


  • Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae: Phycitinae). The orange and black striped larvae eat the parenchymous tissue inside the cladodes. Introduced to South Africa in 1933 for the biological control of Opuntia ficus-indica, causing extensive damage not only to this host plant but to a number of other cactus weed species in South Africa as well. However, its impact here was not as great as it was against Opuntia stricta in Australia.

  • Dactylopius opuntiae (Hemiptera: Dactylopiidae). The 'ficus' biotype was released in 1938 against Opuntia ficus-indica, causing extensive damage (Klein 2011). Dactylopius species are collectively known as cochineal insects and are all characterised by having vivid red body contents that from Dactylopius coccus is used for producing cochineal dye. The females suck the juices from the cactus and those of Dactylopius opuntiae are easily noticed on the plant because of their untidy covering of waxy filaments, looking rather like blobs of cotton wool.

  • Lagocheirus funestus (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae). A stem boring beetle, released in 1943 against Opuntia ficus-indica but while it has become established, it has caused only trivial damage (Klein 2011).

  • Metamasius spinolae (Coleoptera: Curculionidae). A stem boring beetle, released in 1948 against Opuntia ficus-indica, causing extensive damage to plants (Klein 2011).



  • Klein H. 2011. A catalogue of the insects, mites and pathogens that have been used or rejected, or are under consideration, for the biological control of invasive alien plants in South Africa. African Entomology 19(2): 515-549.

Text by Hamish Robertson

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