A prickly situation

Department research officer Sandy Lloyd (left) and biosecurity officer Terri Jasper among the wheel cactus infestation.
Department research officer Sandy Lloyd (left) and biosecurity officer Terri Jasper among the wheel cactus infestation.

One of the most insidious cactus species in Australia, wheel cactus, or Opuntia robusta, has been labelled a weed of national significance.

A local bush care group worker in the Shire of Dowerin discovered the cactus infestation and reported it to the Department of Agriculture and Food.

Department research officer Sandy Lloyd said a biosecurity officer visited the property and found one very large plant and about 30 smaller plants.

‘Wheel cactus has been present for some years in South Australia, where it has spread over 35,000 hectares in the Flinders Ranges,’ Ms Lloyd said.

‘It spreads more quickly than some other cacti because birds eat the fruit and spread the seed in their droppings.

‘Wheel cactus can be distinguished from other cacti by its round segments of up to 40 centimetres in diameter, which are usually a dull bluish-green colour, whereas other types of prickly pear have oval or teardrop-shaped segments.’

The Shire of Dowerin sprayed the plants.

Ms Lloyd called on the public to keep an eye out for wheel cactus, which could easily be confused with prickly pear.

‘People who wish to grow cactus as a source of edible fruit are allowed to grow the edible prickly pear, also known as indian fig, Opuntia ficus-indica,’ she said.

‘Wheel cactus can’t be grown in WA and must be reported.’

Any sightings of suspected wheel cactus should be reported to the department’s Pest and Disease Information Service on freecall 1800 084 881.