Frost Sensitivity of Opuntia ficus-indica and O. robusta in a Semiarid Climate of South Africa


  • Hennie A. Snyman
  • Herman J. Fouché
  • Paul L. Avenant
  • Clement Ratsele



Frost damage, Opuntia ficus-indica, O. robusta, phonological stage, plant health, semiarid, water stress


There is a lack of information on the adaptability of different spineless cactus-pear cultivars under a range of environmental conditions. A study was conducted to evaluate the cold/frost tolerance of 10 cultivars of Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Miller and one cultivar of O. robusta Wendl. over two growing seasons (2001/2002 to 2002/2003) in a semiarid climate of central South Africa. The cultivars of O. ficus-indica included Algerian, Gymno Carpo, Morado, Nudosa, Roedtan, Sicilian Indian Fig, Tormentosa, Van As, X28 and Zastron. The species O. robusta was represented by the cultivar Monterey. Frost damage was estimated visually, integrating the individual cladode damage over the entire plant. Frost damage only occurred in spring (late-seasonal frost: August to October) after a combination of frequent successive nights of freezing temperatures (between -2.06 and -9.6oC) when the plants already started sprouting. In winter, during dormancy, no plants suffered any frost damage at freezing temperatures as low as -8oC. For the one-year-old plants (2001/2002 season), Zastron suffered the most frost damage of all cultivars, with Monterey and X28 most tolerant to freezing temperatures. Algerian, Sicilian Indian Fig, Van As and X28 suffered 100% frost damage for the two-year-old plants (2002/2003 season). For the same season, frost damage to Tormentosa and Roedtan was 98%, 97% for Nudosa, 96% for Morado, and 95% for Gymno Carpo. The remaining two cultivars also suffered frost damage but to a lesser degree (Monterey 41% and Zastron 85%). The reason cactus-pear cultivars were killed can be debated, as there are other successful cactus-pear plantations in the study area. It is believed that freezing temperatures during springtime did not single-handedly cause the death of the cactus-pear plants, but water stress, plant health, and plant phonological stage could also have a bearing on that. To successfully cultivate cactus pear, whether for fodder or fruit production, it is important to select areas that are not prone to severe and late-season frost.






Scientific Papers