Strange and exotic dragon fruit is even more bizarre when you learn that these delicious fruits grow on a vining cactus!
If you’ve never seen one, dragon fruits have bright pink, leathery skin and scaly spikes. The interior fruit is peppered with tiny black seeds, similar to kiwifruit.
White-fleshed dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) is the one we see most often in grocery stores. There are also red- and yellow-fleshed varieties, H. costaricensis and H. megalanthus, respectively.
Also known as pitahaya and strawberry pear, dragon fruit is probably native to Central America, though scientists are still debating over that.
The dragon fruit plant
Dragon fruit plants are climbing cacti with branches that put out aerial roots. Fragrant, edible flowers bloom at night. Pollination is usually done by bats and moths. These plants can handle temperatures over 100°F and light touches of frost. Too much time in freezing temperatures will kill a dragon fruit plant.
These plants can get big. Wait, let me say it another way – they can get HUGE! Multiple branching arms can grow 30’ long. That’s important information if you want to start growing your own dragon fruit.
How to grow dragon fruit
To begin, be sure to get a self-fertile variety. Also, having more than one plant will boost your harvest, if you have room. You can grow dragon fruit in 15-gallon pots to help keep it under control. This makes moving it to a protected spot in winter easier, too.
Being cacti, dragon fruit plants thrive in Hardiness Zones 10-11, though they can sometimes be grown outdoors in zones 9a or 9b. They grow best in slightly acidic soil with good drainage.
You can grow dragon fruit from seeds or cuttings. Like most cacti, broken-off bits of a stem will readily start producing roots when in contact with moist soil. [In some countries, dragon fruit plants are classified as invasive weeds.]
To grow dragon fruit from seed, be sure to remove all the fruit first and allow them to dry out. Then, lightly cover them with nutrient-rich potting soil and water regularly, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. Soggy soil usually kills seeds and seedlings. Seeds should germinate in a couple of weeks.
If you are growing a dragon fruit indoors, you will need to pollinate flowers by hand, which isn’t difficult. Dragon fruit plants usually reach full production when they are 5 years old and live for 20-30 years.
Dragon fruit problems
Most dragon fruit diseases are related to too much water. Overwatering and heavy rains can create conditions that allow several fungal and bacterial diseases to occur. Be on the lookout for anthracnose, black rot, blossom drop, brown spot, cactus stem rot, pitaya fruit rot, and white rot. This is why good drainage is so important. Also, you will need to monitor for aphids, mealybugs, mites, and thrips. These pests can suck the life out of your dragon fruit, and some of them may carry plant diseases.
If you’ve never eaten a dragon fruit, I urge you to try one. Then, decide for yourself if there’s room for this vining, fruiting cactus in your landscape!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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