Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Devil's Rope (Cylindropuntia imbricata) is a very spiny cactus that is readily distributed by stem or immature fruit fragments.
  • It thrives in semi arid and arid areas of Australia.
  • It can cause injury to humans and other animals.
  • It can impede movement of stock and reduce productivity of pasture and stock carrying capacity.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Devil's Rope (Cylindropuntia imbricata) is a spreading or erect shrub or small tree from 1 to 5 m tall, often forming a short trunk 7–15 cm diameter. Its hairless, mid to dark green or grey green stem segments are cylindrical (terete) but with discontinuous prominent elongated ridges. Each segment is 15–40 cm long and 3.5 to 5 cm in diameter. The areoles (spots on stem segments and fruits that contain the spines and glochids) are at the tip of elongated ridges, with short white to yellowish wool and small yellow glochids (clusters of small barbed bristles). There can be from 2–12 spines on segments increasing to 30 on the older segments and trunks, 0.8 –3 cm long and covered with a dirty white to pale cream papery sheath.

The flowers are red-purple, 3 to 9 cm in diameter. New flowers may develop on the upper parts of previous years fruits that have not ripened. 

Each fruit is tuberculate (warty), 3–7.5 cm long, 2–5.5cm diameter, green when immature and yellow when mature. The fruits are solitary or in chains up to 5. Each fruit produces numerous viable seed (Telford 1984; Stajsic & Carr 1996; Navie 2004; Chinnock 2007, pers. comm.; Chinnock 2015).

For further information and assistance with identification of devil's rope contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)

Shrub, Tree

Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Devil's Rope is mostly found in semi-arid environments, but also occurs in drier subtropical and warmer temperate environments. It is a weed of pastures, open woodlands, rangelands, chenopodiaceous shrublands, and grasslands, (Navie 2004; Chinnock 2015).

Are there similar species?

Coral Cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida var. mamillata) is a low shrub usually to 1 m tall which has at least some stem segments that are club-shaped and often become distorted and wavy. It has bright red flowers (10–50 mm across) and yellowish-green coloured fruit (Navie 2004; Chinnock 2007, pers. comm.).

Harrisia Cactus (Harrisia martinii) is a low-growing sprawling plant commonly 30 to 60 cm tall with stems 4–6 angled with raised pyramid-shaped humps. It has large white or pink flowers and bright red coloured fruit with small black seed (Navie 2004; Chinnock 2007, pers. comm.).

Tiger Pear (Opuntia aurantiaca) has very short rounded (terete) or subterete, non-ridged, stem segments rarely more than 20 cm long and small yellow flowers and red fruits that do not possess seed (Navie 2004; Chinnock 2007, pers. comm.).

The reference to snake cactus by Navie (2004) and Chinnock (2007) is presumed in error as the variety of Cylindropuntia fulgida found in Australia is an abnormal sterile form and no hybrids with Cylindropuntia imbricata  would develop (Chinnock pers. comm. 2021).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Human impacts: Devil's Rope is a very spiny, drought tolerant cactus which can cause injury to humans and other animals. Stem segments, especially the outer developing ones and fruits often separate and attach to animals, footwear or vehicles and are readily distributed.

Agriculture: While it is relatively slow growing, large outbreaks can eventually impede movement of stock and reduce productivity of pasture and stock carrying capacity (Tanner 2007; Chinnock 2007, pers. comm.).

Native ecosystems: Occurs in native environments, in woodlands and shrublands in arid Australia. 

How does it spread?

Devil's Rope reproduces by stem or fruit fragments or seed. These stem and fruit fragments readily attach to animals, footwear and vehicles and easily transported to new sites. They are also distributed by washing down waterways, flood-waters or in dumped garden waste. Fragments readily produce roots when in contact with soil (Navie 2004).

What is its history in Australia?

The earliest know record of Devil's Rope, held in an Australian herbarium, was collected at Quirindi, New South Wales, by the Town Clerk in April 1934. It was most probably introduced into Australia as an ornamental plant in the 1920s (National Herbarium of New South Wales 2007).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

For small outbreaks and for scattered plants burying, burning or chemical control is preferable. 

Non-chemical control: Repeated ploughing/cultivation destroys Devil's Rope (the pieces eventually give up if damaged and/or disturbed often enough).

Chemical control: There are a number of effective herbicides available (Tanner 2007).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Biological control: Devil's Rope has also been recognised as a target for biological control through a cross-jurisdictional government process. This allows activities to be undertaken to develop effective biological controls. Biological control can be used for controlling large outbreaks or dense patches. Cochineal Insect (Dactylopious tomentosus) is most effective in drier warmer areas. It was introduced from the southern part of the United States in 1925 and 1926. It is effective but works slowly. Once established the insect will spread to new segments and adjacent plants. Cochineal Insect can also be spread manually by placing a few cochineal infected segments on unaffected plants (Land Protection 2006; Tanner 2007).

Does it have a biological control agent?

YES. The cochineal insect Dactylopius tomentosus and its lineages have been released against 8 Cylindropuntia species. Ongoing work to optimise biocontrol solutions through better adapting cochineal lineages to Cylindropuntia species and expediating releases across greater infestations (Harvey,  et al 2023).

When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Most plants develop from stem segment fragments and immature fruits which produce roots  when in contact with the soil  and develop new plants (Navie 2004). No information is available on plants developing from seed.

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Devil's Rope is common in the inland and sub-coastal regions of Queensland and New South Wales. It also occurs in the drier parts of north-west Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory  and south-west Western Australia (Navie 2004; Chinnock 2015).

Where does it originate?

Devil's Rope extends from the southern central areas of the United States to northern Mexico (Anderson 2001).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?

In all states and territories.

Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Cylindropuntia imbricata

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Cereus imbricatus Haw.
  • Opuntia arborescens Engelm.
  • Opuntia decipiens DC.
  • Opuntia imbricata (Haw.) DC.
  • Opuntia imbricata (Haw.) DC. var. imbricata
  • Opuntia cylindrica (Lam.) DC. (misapplied by Willis, J.H. 1973, A Handbook to Plants in Victoria Edn 2. 2: 400.)

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Devil's Rope Pear, Tiger Pear, Devil's Rope, Devil's Rope Cactus, Rope Pear, Chain-link Cactus


Blackberry – a community-driven approach in Victoria

Blackberry the weed (Rubus fruticosus aggregate) was first introduced to Australia by European settlers in the mid-1800s as a fruit. It was recognised as a weed by mid-1880s. Blackberry is a serious issue across Australia. It is estimated that blackberry infests approximately 8.8 million hectares of land at an estimated cost of $103 million in annual control and production losses.

Read Case Study