Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Velvet Tree Pear (Opuntia tomentosa) is an invasive species that can reduce land productivity.
  • Fragments of leaf segments and immature fruit will root and produce new plants.
  • The succulent fruits are eaten by birds and they distribute the seed in their droppings.
  • It can cause injury to humans and other animals.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Velvet Tree Pear (Opuntia tomentosa) is an erect shrub or small tree 1–8 m tall often with a well developed trunk to over 40 cm diameter. The dull green to grey green stem segments (pads) are flattened, oblong to narrowly elliptic, 15 to 30 cm long, 6 to 16 cm broad and 1.5 to 2 cm thick. They have a velvety surface of fine hairs. The areoles (spots on stem segments and fruits that contain the spines and glochids) are scattered (more than 2 cm apart), prominently raised, sometimes with up to 4 weak deciduous spines and yellow glochids (clusters of small barbed bristles).

The orange flowers are 4 to 5.5 cm in diameter with purplish tinged outer segments.

The red-purple, velvety fruits are egg-shaped to globose, depressed at the apex and 2.5 to 5 cm in diameter (Stanley & Ross 1983; Telford 1984; Navie 2004; Land Protection 2006).

For further information and assistance with identification of Velvet Tree Pear contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)

Tree, Shrub

Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Velvet Tree Pear is widespread throughout the brigalow belt of Queensland where it is still extending its range. It also occurs in scattered locations in New South Wales and South Australia in Acacia or mallee systems in drier semi arid or arid parts (Land Protection 2006; Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

Are there similar species?

Indian Fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) is most similar to Velvet Tree Pear especially in the shape, size and thickness of the stem segments. It is readily distinguished by the absence of the velvety covering on the stem segments and the yellow flowers (Navie 2004, Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

Drooping Tree Pear (Opuntia monacantha) and Common Prickly Pear (Opuntia stricta) have hairless egg-shaped to elongate stem segments that are thinner than those of Velvet Tree Pear and both species have bright yellow flowers. The fruits have scattered areoles unlike Velvet Tree Pear. Drooping Tree Pear and Common Prickly Pear often have one or more long thick spines (Navie 2004, Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta) has very large hairless, almost circular stem segments that are bluish grey and have numerous short white to brownish spines. It has large bright yellow flowers (Navie 2004, Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

White-spined Prickly Pear (Opuntia streptacantha) can also be tree-like but like Wheel Cactus has egg-shaped to circular hairless stem segments with numerous white spines. It has large yellow flowers (Navie 2004, Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

The impacts of Velvet Tree Pear are similar to those of the other Opuntia species.

Agriculture: Dense infestations can impede movement and lay waste to agricultural and pastoral land, provide harbour for feral animals and crowd out native plant species.

Human impacts: The spines and glochids can cause injury to humans and animals (Chinnock 2007, pers. comm.).

How does it spread?

Velvet Tree Pear reproduces by stem fragments or immature fruits which root when in contact with the soil. Stem fragments are spread by becoming attached to animals, footwear and vehicles. They are also dispersed in dumped garden waste. The succulent fruits are eaten by birds and animals (such as foxes) and the seeds spread in their droppings (Navie 2004). In southern Queensland velvet tree pear is commonly seen along roads under Eucalyptus resulting from seed dropped in bird scats.

What is its history in Australia?

It is not known exactly how Velvet Tree Pear arrived in Australia. In common with other Opuntia species it was probably introduced as an ornamental shrub, hedge plant, fodder crops or as a plant host for cochineal insects which were a source of valuable carmine dye (Fuller 1998).

In 1912, the botanist Joseph Maiden reported Velvet Tree Pear as common in Queensland around Goondiwindi and Warwick. These are probably the source of present day infestations in Queensland and north eastern New South Wales. He also reported this species as being present in South Australia. It has never become a serious problem in South Australia and occurs only as solitary plants or small localised populations (Hosking et al. 1988, Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Mechanical control using machinery is difficult because Prickly Pear pads can easily re-establish. A hot fire is an effective control method for dense Prickly Pear infestations (Land Protection 2006).

Chemical control: A number of herbicides are also effective by spraying or injecting (Land Protection 2006).

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

Biological control: Velvet Tree Pear has 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. Many species of insects and mites have been recorded feeding on Velvet Tree Pear but most damage is caused by Cochineal insect (Dactylopius opuntiae) which is the main biological control used for this species. In areas where Cochineal does not cause sufficient damage felling of large trees increases the level of control by this insect. Cactoblastis Insect (Cactoblastis cactorum) will destroy seedlings and smaller plants but causes minor damage to large plants (Hosking et al. 1988).

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Little information is available about the lifecycle of Velvet Tree Pear. Flowering occurs mostly during spring and summer. New plants also form from stem fragments or immature fruits which root when in contact with the soil (Navie 2004).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Velvet Tree Pear is widespread species that is mostly found in eastern Australia. It is most common in central and southern Queensland. It is also recorded for northern New South Wales and occurs in scattered locations in South Australia especially in the Flinders Ranges and Murray Region (Navie 2004, Chinnock 2007 pers. comm.).

Where does it originate?

Velvet Tree Pear is a native of Mexico and Guatemala (Anderson 2001).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


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

Opuntia tomentosa

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Velvet Prickly-pear, Velvety Tree-pear, Velvet Pear

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