Everything You Need To Know About Opuntia Stricta

Family Cactaceae
GenusOpuntia
SpeciesO. stricta
Other Namesprickly pear, Australian pest pear, coastal prickly pear, common pest pear, common prickly pear, erect prickly pear, prickly pest pear, prickly pear, sour prickly pear, southern spineless cactus
Sunlight Full sunlight
Temperature 16C to 28C (recommended)
Growth SeasonSummer
ClimateArid, semi-arid, dry regions
PropagationEasily propagated from cuttings and seeds
Height2 to 3 feet tall on average
Water Minimum water. 
OthersHighly invasive species. Extremely hardy. Low maintenance. Plant and forget.

The Opuntia Stricta, or prickly pear, is a cactus species with an enormous global footprint.

While native to the Caribbean and the Americas, Opuntia Stricta was introduced to other countries via trade ships, migrants, and settlers.

O.Stricta requires very little hand-holding. It does not need trimming, except maybe an occasional prune after a couple of years. They don’t have problems with pests and don’t suffer from any diseases.

Considering all this, it’s not hard to see why the settlers/migrants instantly fell in love with the O.Stricta.

They were, however, unaware (or ignorant) of its darker, more destructive side.

The Invasion of Opuntia Stricta

Within no time, O. stricta had escaped controlled cultivation and began its successful invasion, multiplying in the thousands.

It was an invasion that saw it spread globally – over the seas and across entire continents – changing its classification from ornamental houseplant to a biological invasive species.

opuntia stricta on the sun
Opuntia Stricta is very invasive
Photo by Pixabay

Opuntia Stricta and Australia

The prickly pear is a hardy plant stretching across the arid savanna bushland. Not only able to survive the hot and dry climate of Australia’s bushlands but to thrive in it. 

So why was the Opuntia Stricta brought to Australia in the first place?

1788 saw the introduction of the Opuntia stricta in Australia. Scientists discovered that from a bug (cochineal) found on this plant, it was possible to get the red blood dye needed to color the red tailcoats required by the British Army.

Until the 1920s, the Opuntia stricta has been officially declared a menace in Australia. The red dye could now be made chemically, so there was no need to cultivate the opuntia stricta plant. It was left to grow wild as the cost of removal far outweighed the value of the land.

Naturalization Of Opuntia Stricta

Naturalization is described as:

Establishing or persisting in a new environment after being introduced from another region.

The Opuntia Stricta can be found in multiple continents – naturalizing in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Spain, Yemen, Namibia, Kenya, even as far down as Australia.

Features Of Opuntia Stricta

Description

Due to its erect posture, people also call it the erect prickly pear. As its name implies, this succulent species is easily recognized by its pear-shaped fruits, which in most cases are a deep purple.

Height

Whether standing erect or sprawling, Opuntia stricta grows anywhere between 50 to 100cm, but some species can reach a maximum height of about 2m.

Stems and Branches

Many branches end in a flat, rounded pad with sharp spines all around along the stem. Even though they look like leaves, these pads are stems. The water is stored to ensure the plant is well hydrated during the dry seasons. The places are also responsible for photosynthesis.

Flowers

Flowers can be found around the tip of the pads. The bright yellow flowers typically grow to a length of up to 7cm and between 6 and 8cm in width.

The plant has two methods of dispersal, seed and vegetative. Animals such as birds and rodents are a great help for seed dispersal. They eat the seeds, which are later ejected through the animal’s droppings, in most cases several kilometers away.

Vegetative dispersal occurs when the spines (actually leaves) dislodge themselves from the plant and fall to the ground. They then develop roots and grow into new plants.

So, is the Opuntia Stricta a foe or friend? This question is hot on our online group. The answer is both.

blommed opuntia stricta with yellow flower
Photo by Pixabay

How to Grow The Opuntia Stricta

Growing this cactus is easy. All you need is a patch where the soil drains well and receives direct sunlight throughout – as you would find in the desert.

Light

Native to desert-like, arid regions, the prickly pear cactus loves its fair of sun. The more, the better; we recommend total sunlight exposure and no shade.

Temperature

The O.Stricta is quite the hardy trooper, able to withstand frigid temperatures of -0C.

However, we still recommend bringing the plant indoors during freezing winter temperatures. Anything from -5C and below is not suitable for the Opuntia Stricta and may cause noticeable damage to your lovely plant.

The best temperature for the O.stricta ranges from 16C to 28C.

Propagation

Opuntia Stricta propagates quite easily in two ways; via cuttings and seeds. To get a cutting, hold the pan surface with prongs and use a sharp knife to slice it off at the point where it joins the next pad. That is also how you prune the plant. 

Whether you use cuttings or seeds, the best time to put them in the ground is during the Spring/Summertime.

Water

Do not over-water the Opuntia Stricta, which can cause the plant to rot. Give it just enough water to thrive.

You need to water it once every 2 to 3 weeks during the rooting period. After that, rainwater is enough for them.

Soil

You should plant O.Stricta in soil with good drainage and adequate aeration. Lack of drainage will result in stagnant water swamp-like conditions, which will most definitely kill your plant.

We recommend a batch of cactus soil mix, which you can get at your nearest gardening store.

Also read:

prickly pear
Photo by Pixabay

Pros And Cons Of Opuntia Stricta

Cons

Mention opuntia stricta to anyone in Australia, and they will tell you that a few years after its first introduction, it was described as one of the world’s great biological invasions. This plant can spread across a vast expanse of land due to its dispersion method.

Pros

Despite its invasive nature, some see and understand the enormous benefits of the opuntia stricta plant.

  1. Boosts immunity: The fruit of the opuntia stricta plant is an antioxidant with the ability to boost the immune system while at the same time stimulating the body to produce white blood cells. These white cells help protect your body from infections.
  • Toxins removal: One of the most significant benefits of vitamin C is helping the body eliminate harmful toxins. The opuntia stricta plant is high in vitamin C and provides excellent toxins removal properties.
  • Helps in digestion: High in fiber, the opuntia stricta fruit can help your food move smoothly along the digestive tract. This means you will not have to face the discomfort you get when bloated, constipated or have other gastrointestinal issues like gastric ulcers.
  • Strong bones and teeth: Calcium ensures your bones and teeth grow and remain strong and healthy. That is a great reason to add the opuntia stricta fruit to your diet. The fruit supplies your body with the right amount of calcium to prevent age-related conditions like osteoporosis.
  • Protects the heart: Cholesterol buildup is one of the most common causes of stroke and coronary heart diseases. The potassium, fiber, and betalain contained in the fruit of the opuntia stricta plant prevents cholesterol buildup, keeps your blood pressure at a standard rate, and reduces the stress exerted on the whole cardiovascular system. In addition, the blood vessels are strengthened, ensuring a good flow of blood in the body.
  • Helps in weight loss: The low calories, high fiber content, and the other dietary nutrients all work together to reduce your weight healthily.

Check out our Succulent City Facebook page and share pictures of your opuntia stricta cactus with fellow succulent lovers from across the globe!

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