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Tuesday - June 03, 2008

From: Los Angeles, CA
Region: California
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Brown flakes on prickly pear in Los Angeles
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in Los Angeles CA. I have desert type plants in my landscape. I have prickly pear cactus that have developed some light brown, almost golden flakes on the skin of the pads. I believe it is called scurf, or dandruff. I have searched on the web and found descriptions of fungi on cactus as being black spots. I have brown flakes. What can I use to treat / remove and stop the flakes from spreading on to the other cacti? Please let me know


There are nine prickly pears in our Native Plant Database; three of which are found in California. This doesn't necessarily mean one of those three is what you have, it's just a way of narrowing down the number we look at. They are all in the Genus Opuntia so if we can establish what problem matches your description, it will probably be true throughout the Genus.

Opuntia engelmannii var. engelmannii (cactus apple)

Opuntia phaeacantha (tulip pricklypear)

Opuntia polyacantha var. erinacea (grizzlybear pricklypear)

USDA Plants profile for Opuntia polyacantha var. erinacea (grizzlybear pricklypear) with pictures.

The Plant Pathology Lab of Texas A&M has released a list of Opuntia diseases. Here are some extracts from that article:

Cactus Anthracnose (fungus - Colletotrichum (Gleosporium) spp.): This disease affects several kinds of cacti, Cereus, Echinocactus, Mammillaria, and particularly Opuntia (prickly pear). Infection results in a rather moist light brown rot which shows many light pink pustules on the surface. Spots are small at first, later enlarge and become covered by the small spore-producing pustules. Large areas may be affected, sometimes destroying entire plants. No satisfactory control is available, other than removing and destroying diseased cladodes as soon as noticed. In the greenhouse, soil from infected plants should be removed and benches disinfected. Spraying with a copper fungicide may help in checking the disease.

Scorch or Sunscald (fungus - Hendersonia opuntiae): This disease is common and serious on prickly pear cactus (Opuntia). Spots at first are distinctly zoned, later enlarging until entire cladodes turn a reddish-brown and finally die. The center of the disease area is grayish-brown and cracked. Other fungi may also be present in the diseased area. No practical control has been developed.

Scab (physiological): Particularly common on prickly pear cactus. Rusty colored, corky areas appear on the stems. Scab is thought to be a form of edema, resulting from overwatering and poor ventilation. Increase light and decrease humidity for control.

Stem Rot of Cacti (fungus - Drechslera cactivorum): Basal or top rot of seedling cacti that turns cactus into a shrunken mummy covered with brown spores. First symptoms are yellow spots. It can completely rot a plant in four days. The fungicide Captan should give some control.

Doesn't sound good, does it? We searched for pictures of the various diseases on a prickly pear, so you could compare them, but didn't find any. In fact, virtually every search phrase we used returned us to the article from Texas A&M that we have already referenced. On a couple of discussion websites, we found that Opuntia is considered by many an invasive weed, and no one seemed too interested in curing its diseases.

Summary: See each disease for suggestions for treatment, usually, cutting out the diseased portion and disposing of it in a way to prevent the disease being passed to others. Scab may be caused by watering the cactus, having it in too much shade and/or poor circulation. So, you could move it to a better location-now there's a challenge!

Opuntia engelmannii var. engelmannii

Opuntia phaeacantha






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