Dragon fruits are among the most attractive and exotic fruits, which are produced by certain species of cacti, especially those belonging to the genus Hylocereus. Dragon fruits, that are produced by cacti of the genus Hylocereus are called sweet pitayas.
Cacti belonging to genera, like Stenocereus (sour pitaya) and Cereeae too produce fruits, that are called dragon fruits. It is also said that such sour fruits are referred to as 'pitayas', and the sweet ones (of the genus Hylocereus) are called 'pitahayas'. In English, both sour and sweet types are called dragon fruits.
However, this article is about sweet dragon fruits, that are produced by cacti of the genus Hylocereus. The color of the skin and pulp may vary with the species. There are three common varieties of sweet pitahayas, red skin with purple pulp (Hylocereus costaricensis), red skin with white pulp (Hylocereus undatus), and yellow skin with white pulp (Hylocereus megalanthus). The creamy pulp with edible seeds has a very delicate aroma. While some people relish this fruit, some others dislike its smell and flavor. However, dragon fruits are low in calories, instantly refreshing, and nutritious.
Some Interesting Facts
Though natives to Mexico and parts of central America, dragon fruit trees are widely cultivated in Asian countries, like Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Locally, this fruit is known as 'pitaya', but it has many other names, like dragon fruit, fire dragon fruit, dragon pearl fruit, strawberry pear, and nanettika fruit. Most of these produce large, white flowers. These flowers bloom at night, and have a very rich fragrance. So they are also called 'Moon flowers' or 'queen of the night'.
Dragon fruit trees are vine-like cacti, that grow to a height of around 20 feet. Even though these trees are found in tropical zones with high temperatures, they can be grown in containers too. They are propagated through seeds or cuttings. It has been observed that these trees can get adapted to different types of soil, and can even tolerate light frost. In colder regions, they are grown in greenhouses or in containers, which can be shifted indoors during frost.
How to Plant a Dragon Fruit Tree
If you are planning to plant this tree on the ground; select a place with rich, well-drained soil and partial shade. It is always better to support the plant with a stake, from the very beginning itself. Water the plant once a week, as over watering may cause rotting of the roots. As the plant grows, support must be provided in the form of trellis or metal frames; and make sure to secure new growths to these frames with strong twines. It has been observed that the plants must have a minimum weight of around ten pounds, to bear fruits.
If provided with suitable growing conditions, it takes around two years for dragon fruit trees to bear fruits. It is also suggested that only one pseudo stem should be allowed to grow, during the initial stages, and secondary ones have to be pruned. Once the shoots grow well, allow three to five secondary pseudo stems to grow in a balanced and well spread manner. You may also help the flowers to get pollinated. This can be done by collecting the pollen (from anthers) in a soft brush, and depositing it on the stigma (star-shaped), which protrudes from the flower. You may use organic fertilizers twice a year, for a good yield.
This tree can also be planted in big containers or pots (preferably ten-gallon). Ensure proper drainage by placing some rocks and gravel in the bottom of the container, that has to be filled with potting soil. Make sure to keep a stake at a distance of around three to four inches from the plant. Place the pot in light shade and during frost, you have to keep it indoors. Dragon fruit tree care may vary with species and climatic conditions. So, it will be better to collect more information from the local nursery authorities or a horticulturist.