Pereskia/ Barbados gooseberry (Pereskia aculeata) (Cactaceae)

The weed

Pereskia is a primitive, woody cactus with true leaves, indigenous to the West Indies and Central and South America. With its clambering, spiny habit, its long, whip-like shoots and shiny green, succulent leaves it superficially resembles a bougainvillaea rather than a cactus. It produces clusters of lemon-scented, white to cream or yellowish flowers that give rise to edible yellow berries, about the size of grapes, but armed with spines. Pairs of short, hooked spines occur on the young shoots, whereas older, woody stems bear clusters of hard, straight spines, 30-40 mm long.

In South Africa, pereskia escaped from plantings as ornamentals or security hedges and is now invading forest margins and gaps and plantations. It clambers up into trees and forms masses of vegetation in the canopies that block out sunlight and cause trees to collapse under the sheer weight of the plant matter. Any piece of the plant that falls to the ground, has the ability to root and give rise to a new plant. All of these characteristics combine to make pereskia extremely difficult and expensive to control. 

​​Pereskia stem leaves fruit​​​Pereskia infestationPereskia stem leaves fruit


In terms of the Alien and Invasive Species Regulations (AIS), National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act No 10 of 2004), pereskia was declared a category 1b species, which necessitates its control or removal and destruction if possible. No trade or planting is allowed.

​Research into the biological control of pereskia has been carried out intermittently since the 1980s. A leaf-feeding flea beetle species, Phenrica guerini, was released during 1991 and became established in various coastal sites in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces. Although it can cause considerable damage to leaves locally, it has not exerted any significant degree of control on a large scale.

Ongoing research at Rhodes University recently resulted in the release of a stem wilter, Catorhintha schaffneri. Contact person for this agent and future research: Dr Iain Paterson, E-mail: i.paterson@ru.ac.za.

More information

Copies of the following scientific reviews on pereskia and its biological control  can be downloaded:
o 1999 pdf​
o 2011 pdf
Copies of the following leaflets can be downloaded:
o Pereskia aculeata pdf
o Phenrica guerini pdf​​

Contact: Hildegard Klein, E-mail: kleinh@arc.agric.za​.