En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - January 03, 2010

From: Hico, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Fungus on spineless prickly pear in Hico TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Is there anything I can do to save my spineless prickly pear planted 3 yrs ago in rock garden. Pods had grayish-white fungus? on the pods and I noticed a few green colored bugs on them. Bugs are gone- but pods are drooping and falling off,like they have rotted and are mushy. There are several other cactus nearby and need help to save others? thanks


This is almost surely a moisture-related problem. Even in a rock garden, your Opuntia ellisiana (tigertongue) is probably being subjected to more watering than it can tolerate, and perhaps without sufficient drainage. You need to remember that these are desert plants, accustomed by millennia of experience to growing in fast-draining sand (when there was any rain water to drain) and surviving. They are succulents, holding moisture inside their structure, but moisture collecting around their bases or soil that is too moist will encourage fungus. To protect your other plants, you need first to remove the pad(s) that are appearing rotted and mushy; in fact, it might be necessary to remove the whole plant. This will help prevent the spreading of the fungus to other cacti near it.

You next need to address the amount of water that is being applied to the garden, either by rain or artificial irrigation.  You say you planted your rock garden three years ago; this may be the first time since it was planted that it has received very much rain. Since Central Texas is unexpectedly getting some rain this Fall and early Winter, it's possible that poor drainage is causing that water to collect. Under no circumstances should your Opuntia be receiving supplemental watering. At this point, if the drainage in your rock garden is insufficient to protect the roots of the cacti, there is not a lot you can do about it. If and when plants have to be removed because of the problem, you can replace the soil with a more sandy mixture specifically for the growth of cacti and other succulents before you re-plant. And don't fertilize. These are native plants that can get along just fine with the materials in the soil where they live. Fertilizing will only encourage fresh growth, which is going to be more prone to disease. 

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Opuntia ellisiana

Opuntia ellisiana

Opuntia ellisiana



More Diseases and Disorders Questions

October 19, 2015 - A couple of weeks ago the leaves on my decade old cherry laurel began to turn brown. Now they are entirely brown. I have not changed the way in which I cared for it, but about three days ago I noticed...
view the full question and answer

Sooty mold on Texas Sage in Heath TX
December 09, 2010 - I have a Texas Sage that has developed a mildew, blight, fungus or (?) condition. Something has attacked the leaves with a black sooty condition. What is this and what can I do to help this plant thri...
view the full question and answer

Problems with wax myrtle in Roanoke, VA
August 20, 2009 - Our Wax Myrtle bushes tend to lose all their foliage during the Winter months and each year seem to flesh out their leaves less with each passing Spring. One bush never returned and save for one branc...
view the full question and answer

Controlling nematodes on lantana from San Antonio
September 19, 2012 - Can anything be done to "fix" root knot nematode on older lantana. Next to other lantana. Pull them out or try organic fix?
view the full question and answer

Control of sooty mold from aphids in Crape Myrtle
February 25, 2007 - I have a crape myrtle in my front flower bed that has a sooty black substance on the leaves and trunk. I've done research and understand this is caused by aphids. My question is how do I get the bl...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center