The BCSS Research Committee invites applications for grants for research projects that will provide new information on the biology, propagation or cultivation of succulent plants. Research proposals with immediate and direct application to the interests of the BCSS membership are a priority. Grants will normally be limited to a maximum of £2,000, though larger grants will be considered for exceptional projects. For details of how to apply and the conditions associated with the grants please follow this link.

Over the last decade, the Society has supported many research projects, helping to gather fundamental knowledge about the succulent plants we love, and also to nurture specialists in the field to benefit both science and the hobby. Each project is summarised in either CactusWorld or Bradleya so that members can learn about the discoveries.

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Delimiting the genus Opuntia (Cactaceae)

César Ramiro Martínez-González & José de Jesús Morales-Sandoval

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México (

The genus Opuntia belongs to the Cactaceae that is characterized by having flattened stems known as cladodes, each one being similar in shape to a tennis racket. Plants of this genus are commonly known as nopales (in Spanish) or prickly pear (in English), which are used for human consumption as well as their fruits, which can be sweet (tunas) or acid (xoconostles). Similarly they are widely used as livestock feed, various industrial applications (adhesives, resin and waterproofing) and medically as precursors of some drugs. Prickly pears like all cacti are distributed naturally throughout the American continent and naturalized in many countries of the world. It is thought that prickly pears have their centre of origin and diversification in Mexico, where there is no consensus on how many species there are, since this depends on the specialized literature that is consulted.

Using a grant funded by the British Cactus and Succulent Society, Opuntia lasiacantha (Figure 1) and Opuntia rzedowskii (Figure 2) were studied, two species that are different, but for a long time some authors believed that they were the same species. We write "they believe" because detailed work had never been done on the two species to determine whether they were the same or two different species.

We analyzed morphological characters such as cladode size, spines, flower colour and fruit size, as well as their DNA to examine their relationship. The results obtained confirmed that they are two different prickly pear-producing species (Figures 1B–C and 2B–C). This research will be published in greater detail in the scientific journal Bradleya.

We thank all the members of the society since through the British Cactus and Succulent Society we received the finances to be able to carry out the fieldwork, characterize the entire life cycle of the two species (habit, mature cladode, juvenile cladode, flower and fruit) and obtained their genetic material. In order to be able to conserve these species it was first necessary to obtain the knowledge about which species exist.

We invite all readers interested in the subject to learn a little more about this fascinating and difficult plant group. For this we recommend the following publications, where you will find detailed information about the characteristics, habits, classification, distribution and uses of these prickly pears:

  • Barbera, G., Inglese, P. & Pimienta Barrios, E., (eds.) (1995). Agro−ecology, cultivation and uses of cactus pear. FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper No. 132. FAO, Rome.
  • Bravo Hollis, H. (1978) Las cactáceas de México. Vol. 1. National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City.
  • Bravo Hollis, H. & Scheinvar, L. (1995). El interesante mundo de las cactáceas. National Council of Science and Technology, Mexico.
  • Hunt, D. (ed.) (2014). Further Studies in Opuntioideae (Cactaceae). Succulent Plant Research. Vol. 8.
  • Inglese, P., Saenz, C., Mondragon, C., Nefzaoui, A. & Louhaichi, M. (eds.) (2017). Crop ecology, cultivation and uses of cactus pear. ICARCA-FAO, Rome, Italy.
  • Majure, L., Puente, R., Griffith, M.P., Judd, W.S., Soltis, P.S. & Soltis, D.E. (2012). Phylogeny of Opuntia s.s. (Cactaceae): clade delineation, geographic origins, and reticulate evolution. American Journal of Botany 99(5):847-864.


Figure 1. Opuntia lasiacantha. (A) Arborescent habit, 2.30 m high with fruit. (B) Red elliptical fruit. (C) Longitudinal section of the fruit, orange-red funicles.


Figure 2. Opuntia rzedowskii. (A). Shrub habit, 1.20 m high with fruit. (B) Reddish-pink globular fruit. (C) Longitudinal section of the fruit, yellow funicles with pink tones.

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