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Cane Cactus (Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica)

The cane cactus or Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica is a branched shrubby plant with small flowers and fleshy stems covered with white spines. 

The plant can grow up to 4m tall, and the branch segments are 25 cm long and 6cm wide.

Cane cactus is drought-resistant and can form patches along roadsides and on the edges of disturbed land.

Scientific Classification

  • Domain: Eukaryota
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Spermatophyta
  • Subphylum: Angiospermae
  • Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Order: Caryophyllales
  • Family: Cactaceae
  • Genus: Austrocylindropuntia
  • Species: Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica
  • Other Names: Velvet cactus, Prohibition cactus, and Golden-spined cereus

Nativity and Distribution

Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica is native to Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. The plant can also be found in the following areas:

  • Morocco
  • Eritrea
  • The Canary Islands
  • Ethiopia
  • Algeria
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa 
  • Australia

Physical Appearance

Cane cactus has pink to red flowers and fleshy stems covered with white spines
Cane cactus has pink to red flowers and fleshy stems covered with white spines. Image: brisbane.weeds.qld.gov.au
  • Leaves: Leaves are reduced to small white spines.
  • Flowers: Pink to red flowers with numerous tepals.
  • Fruits: Green-yellow fruits.
  • Stems: Fleshy stems that are bluishgreen.
  • Roots: Fibrous and shallow roots.

The cane cactus flowers measure up to 7 cm long and have elongated pericarpels with glochid-bearing areoles. 

The plant’s stem is fleshy and covered in rhomboid tubercles and areoles from which white spikes about 1 cm long emerge. 

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In addition, the stem is cylinder-shaped with a length of 15-50 cm and a diameter of 3-4 cm.

Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica does not have true leaves; the plant’s leaves have been reduced to white spines to adapt to hot environments.

Life Cycle/Reproduction/Dispersal  

  • Life Cycle: Perennial.
  • Seeds: Round to oval seeds covered with a hard coat. 
  • Climate: Grows best in temperatures between 70°F and 90°F
  • Dispersal: Plant’s seeds are dispersed by birds and animals 

The cane cactus can reproduce vegetatively when stem fragments break off the plant, take root, and regrow.

The stem fragments can survive long periods of drought before they produce shoots and are spread by vehicles, animals, machinery, and water.

Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica also reproduces sexually when birds and animals eat the plant’s fruit and disperse the seeds in their droppings.

Uses

  1. The cane cactus is used as an ornamental plant due to its unique appearance.
  2. The plant’s fruit is a food source for some birds and animals.

Impact on Environment

Cane cactus forms dense thickets that can outcompete native plants and hinder movement of people and animals
Cane cactus forms dense thickets that can outcompete native plants and hinder movement of people and animals. Image: garden.org

Cane cactus has been considered invasive in Europe, Australia, and South Africa. It outcompetes native plants for resources such as water and nutrients.

Dense thickets of the plant can hinder movement. The plant’s spines can injure humans and livestock and damage infrastructure, such as vehicles.

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Control

The following methods can control Austrocylindropuntia cylindrica:

1. Physical control 

    Cane cactus seedlings and young plants can be dug out using a hoe. However, one must ensure the whole plant is removed, and any parts that may have fallen off are collected and burned.

    Slashing and ploughing are ineffective control methods because they can further establish stem fragments, which easily regrow.  

    2. Chemical control

      Post-emergent herbicide options that control cane cactus include:

      • Triclopyr  + Picloram can be applied as a cut stump on cut stems to prevent plant regrowth.
      • Triclopyr + Picloram + Aminopyralid applied as a foliar spray on actively growing plants.
      • Aminopyralid + Picloram can be applied as a cut stump treatment and foliar spray.