Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Leaf Cactus (Pereskia aculeata) forms dense thickets with climbing spiny branches.
  • It propagates readily from branch fragments and from seed and grows on a wide range of soils and tolerates shade.
  • Succulent fruits are eaten by birds and as a result there is the potential for a rapid spread and establishment of new populations.
  • Although the plants are ornamentally attractive they should not be planted in areas where they are likely to escape and establish.
  • Currently this species is relatively localised to a few areas in New South Wales and Queensland. If this species is found you should contact your local weed management authority.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Leaf Cactus is a climbing vine-like fast growing shrub with arched or scrambling branches up to 10 m long, with older woody stems to 20–30 mm diameter. Leaf Cactus has claw-like, paired, 3–5 mm long spines at the leaf bases and clustered, straight, 10–60 mm long spines on the older woody stems. Its thin leaves are flattened egg shaped, slightly succulent and waxy, 40–100 mm long, 20–50 mm wide and about 1 mm thick.

Its flowers are fragrant, 15–55 mm diameter, in large bunches, white to pale yellow, often aging pink.

Its fruit are spiny roundish berries, 20–45 mm diameter, yellow to orange in colour and very distinctive (Anderson 2001; CRC 2003; Harden 1990; Stanley & Ross 1983).

For further information and assistance with the identification of Leaf Cactus contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)

Shrub, Vine

Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Leaf Cactus will grow vigorously in tropical and subtropical environments and grows readily in the Eucalyptus communities in south-eastern Queensland and northern New South Wales. It is also drought tolerant and prefers light shade so it will grow well under light canopies or along the margins of woodlands. It tolerates a wide range of soil types and favours well-drained nutrient rich ones. In both Queensland and New South Wales it occurs in riparian vegetation along the banks of rivers. In its native subtropical range the temperatures are warm for most of the year but it will tolerate cool winters in Australia (CRC 2003).

Are there similar species?

There are no similar species in Australia.

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Leaf Cactus is on the Alert List of Environmental Weeds, a list of 28 non-native plants that threaten biodiversity and cause other environmental damage. Although only in the early stages of establishment, these weeds have the potential to seriously degrade Australia's ecosystems (CRC 2003).

Native ecosystems: Leaf Cactus could have significant impact on native trees by overgrowing and smothering them. It could affect biomass by clambering over vegetation and destroying it. It forms large impenetrable thickets and the large spiny stems and branches make control of large infestations very difficult. It has the ability to regrow from stumps and herbicidal control may not be completely effective unless carried out correctly. The succulent fruits are attractive to birds as a food source and are readily dispersed enabling new populations to establish and if unchecked may result in rapid spread. It could seriously injure people and restrict access to riverbanks and have a major impact on recreation and tourism (CRC 2003; Victorian Resources Online 2007).

How does it spread?

Leaf Cactus has edible fruits and it is widely cultivated in various parts of the world. Its seeds are readily eaten by birds and the potential of establishing new populations is high. In cities, birds can move propagules (seed or other parts from which a plant can reproduce) a long way from the original plant using corridors provided by parks, streets, drains and other watercourses. Plants will also establish readily from discarded plants or fragmented branches (CRC 2003).

Dumping of the plant in roadside vegetation is another likely cause of spread. Where Leaf Cactus is near creeks and other water bodies, pieces of the plant may be washed downstream a considerable distance to establish new populations (CRC 2003).

What is its history in Australia?

The first known record of Leaf Cactus in Australia, thought to have been collected possibly as early as the 1860s by Ferdinand Mueller (from the National Herbarium of Victoria) was labelled as being 'spontaneous' (presumably meaning naturalised rather than deliberately planted) at "Moreton's Bay", Queensland. It was also introduced into Australia in the 1920s as a garden ornamental (Telford 1984).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Check with your local council or state or territory weed management agency for relevant control advice in your area and notify them if you think that you have found this species. Do not try to control Leaf Cactus without expert advice. Control effort that is poorly performed or not followed up can actually help spread the weed and worsen the problem (CRC 2007).

Chemical control: For populations of Leaf Cactus eradication by herbicide can be effective.

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

Non-chemical control: For only a few plants individual removal and destruction is effective. As this species readily propagates from stem and branch fragments, it is essential to remove all material. To ensure new infestations do not occur a follow-up program should be undertaken in years following destruction of populations to eliminate the new recruitment of seedlings (CRC 2003; Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Leaf Cactus grows actively between late August and early March with seed germination and initial seedling growth occurring from late May to November depending on rainfall. Flowering occurs from late November until May. Plants are least active or dormant during winter (June-August) (CRC 2003).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

In Australia, Leaf Cactus is restricted to scattered sites in coastal south-eastern Queensland and the adjacent parts of New South Wales. There are single records for northern Queensland and central New South Wales (CRC 2003).

Leaf Cactus has the potential to invade sub tropical riparian vegetation along rivers and tributaries from Queensland to the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Where does it originate?

Leaf Cactus is native to the West Indies, Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil and Argentina from sea level to 1000m (Anderson 2001; USDA 2007 and CRC 2003). It is also cultivated and naturalised in southern Africa, southern United States and Mexico (USDA 2007).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?

Not declared in any Australian state or territory

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

Pereskia aculeata

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Blade Apple, Lemon Vine, Barbados Gooseberry

Other Management Resources

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