Sweet prickly pear

Sweet prickly pear

Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae)

Common Name:

Sweet prickly pear

Scientific Name:

Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae)

Alternative common names:

Indian fig; mission prickly pear (English); boereturksvy; grootdoringturksvy (Afrikaans), umthelekisi (isiZulu)


A succulent, branched shrub or tree up to 3m high, which forms a sturdy trunk with age. Flattened leaf-like stems are grey to grey-green and are much longer than broad, varying from heavily spined to spineless. It has minute leaves and bright yellow or orange showy flowers appear from October to December. The yellowish, turning reddish, edible fruit is covered with minute spines.

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?

Central America (Mexico)

What is its invasive status in South Africa?

Existing legislation: CARA 2002 - Category 1 NEMBA - Category 1b

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

All provinces of South Africa

How does it spread?

Seed dispersal by animals

Why is it a problem?

Competes with and replaces indigenous species. Dense infestations reduce the grazing potential of the land and restrict access by domestic and wild animals. The spiny cladodes can cause injuries to animals and during the fruiting season the minute spines (glochids) on the fruits can be highly irritative and can result in animals being unable to feed. Dense infestations can cause drastic devaluation of agricultural and conservation land.

What does it look like?

General description: Succulent, branched shrub or tree up to 3m high which forms a sturdy trunk with age.
Leaves: Minute leaves.
Flowers: Bright yellow or orange showy flowers appearing from October to December.
Fruit/seeds: Yellowish turning reddish edible fruit covered with minute spines.

Does the plant have any uses?

Edible fruits, animal fodder and security hedging.

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