velvety tree pear

Opuntia tomentosa

This tree-like plant forms a central woody trunk over 40 cm wide and grows up to 5 m high.

Common names 
Also known as: tree pear, velvet opuntia, velvet tree pear, velvety tree pear, woolly joint prickly pear,
Flowering time 
Spring - Summer.
Central Mexico.
State declaration 
Category 3 - Must not be distributed or disposed. This means it must not be released into the environment unless the distribution or disposal is authorised in a regulation or under a permit.
Council declaration 
As per State Declaration
Known distribution 

Velvet tree pear is now locally established over thousands of hectares of northern inland New South Wales and southern/central inland Queensland.


This species is mostly found in sub-tropical, semi-arid and warmer temperate environments. It is a weed of roadsides, railways, pastures, grasslands, open woodlands, rangelands, disturbed sites and waste areas.


An upright (i.e. erect), fleshy (i.e. succulent), tree-like plant usually growing 2-6 m tall, but occasionally reaching up to 8 m in height.

Impact and control methods 

Dense infestations compete with native vegetation, limiting the growth of small shrubs and groundcover species. The plant’s sharp spines or barbs can cause injury to stock and native animals and contaminate wool and hides, reducing or preventing grazing activities and productivity. Large stands of cacti provide harbour for pest animals, such as foxes and rabbits and, due to their spiny nature, can limit access for stock mustering and recreational activities. The spines are capable of causing serious injury to animals and humans.

Stem and leaves 

The stems are dull green in colour, much-branched, and there is a single thick woody stem at the base of the plant (up to 40 cm thick). The branches consist of a series of flattened (i.e. oblong or elliptic), fleshy (i.e. succulent), stem segments. These stem segments (15-35 cm long, 6-16 cm wide and 15-20 mm thick) are velvety in nature (i.e. finely pubescent) and covered in small raised structures (i.e. areoles) that have clusters of fine yellow bristles (i.e. glochids) 1-5 mm long. The stem segments are usually spineless, but they may occasionally bear groups of one or two grey spines (3-25 mm long). These spines are more prominent on younger plants and tend to be absent from older stem segments. The leaves are reduced to tiny cylindrical or cone-shaped (i.e. conical) structures. These leaves are also velvety hairy (i.e. finely pubescent) and are quickly shed from the developing stem segments (i.e. they are caducous).

Flowers and fruits 

The bright orange flowers (4-5.5 cm long and 4-5 cm across) usually have reddish coloured markings on the undersides of the outermost petals. They are borne singly on fleshy bases along the margins of the stem segments. Each flower has large numbers of 'petals' (most of these are actually petal-like structures known as petaloids) and numerous stamens. Flowering occurs mostly during spring and summer. The immature fruit are green in colour, but turn dull red or purplish-red as they mature. These berries (3-5 cm long and 2.5-4 cm wide) are fleshy (i.e. succulent), hairy (i.e. tomentose) and somewhat oval in shape (i.e. ellipsoid or obovoid). They have shallowly depressed tips and are covered with several tufts of small prickly bristles (i.e. glochids). The reddish coloured pulp inside the fruit contains large numbers of somewhat rounded (i.e. sub-globose) pale brown seeds (3-5 mm long).

Reproduction and dispersal 

Opuntioids reproduce both sexually and asexually. Birds and other animals readily eat the many seeded fruits and deposit seeds in their droppings. The seeds have hard seed coats that allow them to survive heat and lack of water. Asexual reproduction (cloning) of cacti occurs when pads (joints, segments) or fruits located on the ground take root and produce shoots.

Similar species 

Tiger pear, common prickly pear