Prickly Pear Mortality

In previous posts I have talked of the prickly pear reducing in canopy coverage over a considerable portion of the rangelands that Sims and I work. I wish a qualified scientist would come along and interpret what is happening, but while waiting for this fellow, here is my opinion.

I have observed the pear beetles that are shown in third picture for most of my life. Taking note that the damaged pear pads they create while feasting on the plant tend to die over time, the entire plant always seemed to remain growing. With little grass surrounding the plant I assumed the pear had some sort of mechanism that prevented the grass from growing next to and within the plant itself. These assumptions appear to be wrong.

As the controlled grazing program has increased the density and vigor of the grasses and their resulting strong root systems, the pear is succumbing to that competition. The pear beetles and perhaps other disease issues damage the pear plant and the grasses take over. (Poor little beetles may be eating their way out of a home.) Prescribed fire certainly can move this process forward faster but does not appear to be a critical factor. Rangelands that have not had a fire placed on them are showing the same decline in pear coverage although not as fast or perhaps complete. Even those pear pads that are broken off and fall to the ground do not take root, as they fall on a turf of grass and litter that prevents the ground- soil-moister contact that implements the new root growth.
One thing is for certain, without the implementation and continued use of a sound grazing management plan the grasses would never reach the density level that makes this process work.

IMG_0153(1)IMG_0152(2)IMG_0008(2)                                          The better it gets the faster it gets better.

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Rangelands and Ranching: A Study of Proper Use of Rangelands & the Environment by Frank S Price

My son and I ranch a cow-calf, wooled sheep and hair sheep operation in West Central Texas. We operate 7 different grazing units and utilize a single herd, traditional pasture grazing program within all these units. My son represents is the 5th generation of this enterprise that was started in 1876 by my great grandfather. He and his brother began by driving a herd of cattle from Ennis Texas to Santa Anna Texas, ultimately driving the herd of cattle they had built to Kansas markets and returned to Sterling County, to begin a permanent ranching operation. Rainfall within our scattered operations runs from 17” to 20”. The winters, while going into the single digits on occasion are relatively mild compared to ranches further north, resulting in mostly mild winters producing usable cool season growth along with the dominant warm season plants.

One thought on “Prickly Pear Mortality”

  1. Regarding the pricklypear article – very good info and observations. Here is some additional information that may be helpful to your readers from Dr. Darrell Ueckert:

    Note the section on the natural enemies of PP. In the late 90’s there was a 1000 ac pasture on a ranch near Christoval that was slated for aerial spraying of PP. It was the densest pear infestation I have seen – pretty much solid across the whole pasture making it useless for grazing. Before it was sprayed, a fungus of some sort decimated the entire population. Same thing was noted on other ranches. Pear has numerous natural enemies and the combination of fungus, bacteria and insects can be deadly when conditions are right for their spread. As you note – the greater the grass cover the better are the conditions for the enemies of pear to attack it. Pear does not do nearly as well in good grass cover.


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