Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Wheel cactus discovered in Western Australia

[DAFWA Media Statement] – 23 April 2014

One of the most invasive cactus species in Australia has been found for the first time growing in Western Australia.

Wheel cactus, Opuntia robusta, is one of the opuntioid cacti that is considered a Weed of National Significance.

The cactus infestation in the Shire of Dowerin was discovered by a member of the local bushcare group, who 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.

œWheel 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.

Due to the seriousness of the find, the Shire of Dowerin has 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 Western Australia 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.

Arrangements are being made to make wheel cactus a declared plant in Western Australia, based on its status as a Weed of National Significance and its risk to agriculture, the environment and social amenities.

More information is available in the recently-released Situation Statement on Opuntioid Cacti in Western Australia, which is available from the department’s website agric.wa.gov.au by searching for ‘cacti’.

Photo caption 1: Computer predictions show wheel cactus is highly suited to southern parts of Western Australia. (©DAFWA)
Photo caption 2: Department research officer Sandy Lloyd (left) and biosecurity officer Terri Jasper among the wheel cactus infestation discovered in Dowerin. (©DAFWA)

Media contact:
Jodie Thomson/Lisa Bertram, media liaison +61 (0)8 9368 3937
Sandy Lloyd, Research Officer   +61 (0)8 9368 3760