History of our Wheel Cactus Problem

Ornamental Garden Plant

Many older residents in the Maldon district believe the first Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta) was planted in our area in the mid 1900’s, most likely as an ornamental garden plant. This cactus is not a native Australian plant but is introduced from Mexico.  There are reports of earlier sightings in our local district, however these may have resulted from confusing the Wheel Cactus plant with other closely related and common cacti, such as Prickly Pear (Opuntia stricta) and Riverina Pear (Opuntia elata). These cacti have been planted in many house gardens since the Gold Rush era of the 1850’s, but have not spread far beyond their original locations and not developed into a devastating noxious weed like Wheel Cactus.

Rapid Invasion

Wheel Cactus is particularly suited to rocky granite environments; hence the plant has rapidly invaded the granite hills surrounding the Maldon township, Mount Tarrangower, Pigeon Hill and The Nuggettys.

The foremost vector in spreading Wheel Cactus is the common crow, the Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides). This bird has a long beak and can eat the attractive red fruit without being injured by the long prickles covering the lobes. These birds feed very happily on the juicy fruit, each containing approximately 500 seeds. Large flocks of juvenile ravens feed on Wheel Cactus fruit and can fly up to a 20 km radius, spreading the seeds in their droppings. Emus can also feed on the fruit and the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) will eat fallen fruit, adding to the dispersal of the seeds.

By the 1960’s, Wheel Cactus was already spreading uncontrollably in the Maldon area and the species was registered as a Noxious Weed within Victoria. An article in the local ‘Maldon Times’ highlights that this cactus was already a serious problem in 1963. Maldon Times May 13 1963 Maldon Times May 13 1963. Within 30 years, around the 1990’s, some local farmers became alarmed at the speed with which Wheel Cactus was invading their properties and began trying to kill these cactus plants. In 2012, Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta) was declared a ‘Weed of National Significance‘ in Australia.

History of the Tarrangower Cactus Control Group Inc.

In the late 1990’s, property owners in the Maldon region became particularly concerned about the impact of Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta) on their farms and the local environment. Some had been trying to destroy this noxious weed for years but with limited success.

Neighbouring landowners invested much time to develop more effective methods to kill this very hardy plant and, after much trial and error, concluded that injecting herbicide directly into the Wheel Cactus lobes was the most reliable and efficient means to permanently kill this plant. In 2005 neighbouring Landcare group members formed a network to address the common goal of eradicating Wheel Cactus infestations in their local areas. Two members each from the Maldon Urban Landcare  (MULGA), Nuggetty and Baringhup Landcare groups formed the initial ‘Wheel Cactus Committee’. They were Wendy French, Brendan McKnight, Glenn Merrick, Caroline and Roy Lovel, Jim Chaplin and Ian Grenda. Also present at the first meeting held on 8 June 2005 at the Baringhup Hall was Noel Muller from Parks Victoria and Chris Pollock from the Mount Alexander Shire.

Funds were sought as the extent of the Wheel Cactus infestations was beyond a small volunteer Landcare network. A submission was prepared by Barry McKnight, Wendy French and Ian Grenda, in collaboration with Parks Victoria ranger, Noel Muller. This was presented on 7 March 2005 to John Thwaites, then State Minister for Sustainability and the Environment. They succeeded in being granted $30,000 over three years on 5 July 2005 to work in partnership with Parks Victoria. On 23rd October 2005 the first public meeting about Wheel Cactus was held in Maldon.

By 2007 Ian Grenda and Noel Muller were organising monthly Wheel Cactus Demonstration Field Days, on public and private land. Most attendees were volunteer Landcare members and local landowners. Advice and loans of equipment were offered to landowners.

 

The  Tarrangower Cactus Control Committee (TCCC)

Structural changes to the ‘Wheel Cactus Committee’ were necessitated by the need to apply for more funding to continue holding field days and to assist in attacking Wheel Cactus infestations. The ‘Tarrangower Cactus Control Committee’ was formed at a meeting on Sunday 30th November 2008 following a Field Day at the old cork plantation at Mt. Tarrangower, Maldon. The elected office bearers included Ian Grenda (President), Cheryl Kane (Secretary) and Tony Kane (Treasurer). The original committee members were Annette Fraser, Judy Bromage, Caroline Lovel, Barrie McKnight and Noel Muller. Virginia Adrian, the Mt. Alexander Landcare co-ordinator attended.

At this meeting a decision was made to join the Farm Tree and Landcare Association as a ‘Member Group’ in order to be eligible to apply for State grants, obtain insurance cover and pay for equipment and herbicide used to kill Wheel Cactus. It was decided community field days were central to the TCCC’s operations (held monthly from April to November with the AGM in November).

cactus-comm

Cactus Control Committee 2011

Besides community field days, the TCCC major goals were to raise awareness of the Wheel Cactus problem and encourage volunteer participation through literature and regular local media articles. Until late 2013 the TCCC operated as a member group of volunteers under the auspices of the Farm Tree and Landcare Association.

See Links below for Current Committee Documents:

President’s Report AGM 2017

Strategic-Action Plan 2018

Member Application Renewal

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group Inc.

In September 2013 the TCCC became an incorporated body of 12 members and was re-named the ‘Tarrangower Cactus Control Group Inc.’ (TCCG) but retaining the single focus of eradicating Wheel Cactus from the environment. The group’s volunteers are fondly referred to as the ‘cactus warriors’, and regularly promote our goals by participating in local community events such as the Maldon and Baringhup Agricultural Show and the Maldon Easter Parade. TCCG has many associations with other organisations, including Parks Victoria, the Connecting Country environment group, our local Mount Alexander Shire, the North Central Catchment Management Authority, DEWLP and Monash and Federation Universities.

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What TCCG is Doing

Eradication Program

TCCG seeks funding from State and Local Governments to achieve our goal of eradication of Wheel Cactus from our local environment.

Public Awareness and Education

TCCG produces informative brochures and print and electronic media to further educate the local community, and also neighbouring communities where Wheel Cactus plants are now being identified for the first time. ‘Cactus Warrior’ volunteers hold demonstrations and field trips, such as a workshop in May 2015, and hold information stalls at the annual Maldon-Baringhup Agricultural Show. Volunteers also enjoy participating in the annual Maldon Easter Parade with a different theme each year.

Community Field Days

We invite all locals, non-locals, landholders, townsfolk, school groups and corporate organisations to become volunteers at our regular community field days to learn how to destroy Wheel Cactus plants and help us to eradicate Wheel Cactus from our native environment.

Volunteer Groups from other Regions

TCCG regularly hosts 1-3 day field trips for different organisations and community groups, such as

  • Monash University Biological Society
  • Bendigo La Trobe University
  • Castlemaine Venturer Scouts

Research Improved Killing Techniques

Herbicide Trials
Members of our group conduct trials with various concentrations of herbicides, such as Glyphosate, Daconate and Grazon for spraying and injecting Wheel Cactus plants.

Cochineal Insects
Members of our group are currently trialing the introduction of a biological control (cochineal insects) in three heavily infested sites in the Maldon/Baringhup area.

Liaison with Similar Groups

TCCG members regularly attend workshops and field days held by other groups in Victoria, such as the Wychitella group, Connecting Country and North Central Catchment Management Authority, and attend conferences and forums about cactus and other noxious weeds, held regularly in Victoria and interstate, such as the Weed Society of Victoria.