Prickly Pear. The Social History of a Plant in the Eastern Cape
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The control of alien and invasive plants has long been the centre of much debate, driven by personal value systems and perceptions of benefits and costs. This is typified by the century-long controversy over the introduction, use and control of the prickly pear and, in many respects, this continues. The ‘prickly pear’, a name often used when generally referring to a wide range of Opuntia species (although scientifically applicable to Opuntia ficus-indica), was introduced into South Africa in the 1700s and became a plant of special significance in the Eastern Cape. Most people in the region had a personal association with the Opuntia, using the fruit for a wide variety of purposes and the plant itself for animal fodder and for hedges. Following its wide dispersal for these purposes, the rapid invasion and environmental transformation that was visible across large areas led to calls to control the plants. Thus began the debates on the costs and benefits of the miracle plant or major invader that continue into the present.