Profiling Prickly Pear Weeds Collected near Goodiwindi

Recently we collected two prickly nasties near Goondiwindi. The one with the typical prickly pear pads and paler fruit is one of the invasive species Opuntia tormentosa (velvety tree pear).The more cylindrical one is Harrisia sp., considered to be seriously invasive.

Edible Prickly Pear

Opuntia tormentosa

Example of Harrisia sp.

Crushed cochineal shows distinctive red colour on tissue

While these specimens have been in captivity in a plastic box, the characteristic 'cotton wool structures belonging to cochineal bugs have appeared. These, and the valuable red dye (cochineal) obtained from them are the reason that Opuntias was introduced to Australia. You can see the distinctive red colour from a crushed insect on the tissue (pictured).

The fruits of many cacti are edible, some like the spine/prickle-free Dragon fruit being commercially cultivated. But beware both of these if foraging. O.tomentosa has thousands of minute irritant hairs which embed in skin! As for Harrisia, the spines are strong and sharp.

As both these plants are environmental weeds, they will be heat killed above 100deg. overnight in an oven.

Australia's biological control of Opuntia is possibly one of the most spectacular successes in history (by contrast with the spectacular environmental disaster of cane toad introduction) The story deserves a post of its own.


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