Dragon fruit

Dragon fruit
Source: Christine Zenino

Hylocereus undatus of Dragon Fruit is a cactus that is better known for its particular fruit, called dragon fruit or pitaya. It’s only one of several cactus species that produce dragon fruit. The fruit of Hylocereus undatus has a bright pink skin and white flesh.

This cactus grows as a climber, creeper or hanging plant, depending on the environment. It can climb trees with its aerial roots.

It flowers only at night with very large, very fragrant, yellow and white flowers of 30 cm long and 25 cm in diameter. The flowers are the largest among the cacti.

This cactus is a fast grower and very easy to grow. The main problem with this plant is the size: it grows very fast and soon becomes too large for indoor growing.

You have probably seen it many times at the garden center: because it’s so easy to grow and grows quickly, it is used as a basis for grafting chlorophyll-less cacti, such as the neon colored Gymnocalycium. You know, those yellow, bright pink or orange globular cacti.

Description:

Hylocereus undatus produces numerous shoots of 6-12 m in length. The stems are three sided and produce aerial roots with which they can climb trees. The ribs are usually wavy and bear tiny spines. The plant branches easily.

The yellow and white flowers appear only at night, and every flower blooms only a few hours. But a well established specimen will produce several flowers spread over many days. The flower is the largest flower of all cacti: up to 35 cm long and 25 cm in diameter. The flower has a very strong vanilla perfume. This plant is not self-pollinating and is pollinated by wild bats and moths.

The fruit has a bright pink shell and leaf-like scales, ending in a green tip. The flesh is white and filled with tiny black seeds. It can weigh up to 700 grams, be 6-12 cm long and 4-9 cm wide. The taste is fresh but not as savory as other types of pitaya. Pitaya is offered in supermarkets in late December.

Common names:

Belle of the night, Belle-of-the-Night, Common night blooming cereus, Conderella Plant, Dragon-fruit, Honolulu Queen, Night-Blooming Cereus, Nightblooming cactus, Pitahaya, Queen of the night, Queen-of-the-night, Red Pitahaya, Red Pitaya, Strawberry Pear, Strawberry-Pear

Synonym:

Cereus undatus

Etymology:

Hylocereus: ‘hyle’ is the Greek word for forest and ‘cereus’ the Latin word for candle.
Undatus: is derived from the Latin word ‘unda’ which means undulated.

Hylocereus undatus plant

Hylocereus undatus plant
Source: Forest & Kim Starr

Origin:

No one knows the exact origin but the plant grows wild in Central America,



Habitat:

Lithofyt or hemi-epiphyte. Grows in dry areas, in forests.

Hardiness:

USDA zone 10-11, -1 °C

Care:

Soil:

Any soil will do.

Exposure:

Prefers full sun but will do with half-shade.

Water:

Water frequently: contrary to most cacti, it prefers a moist substrate over a dry one.

Fertilizer:

Fertilize in the spring, when growth resumes, and at the end of the summer with solid fertilizer, which releases its nutrients slowly.

Repot:

When the pot becomes to small.

Pruning:

Because it grows so fast, even indoors, you will need to prune it regularly. The cut stems can be used as cuttings.

Hylocereus undatus flower

Hylocereus undatus flower
Source: Ulf Eliasson

Propagation:

Seed and cuttings.
The seeds can be picked out a dragon fruit (they are usually available around the holiday season). It’s also possible to cut off a grafted Gymnocalycium to grow the Hylocereus undatus that is underneath it.

Sowing instructions:

  • sow in a sandy, moist and airy mix
  • cover the seeds with a thin layer of substrate and place the pot in a sunny place
  • cover the pot so to retain the moisture
  • 25 °C
  • transplant the seedlings, when they are big enough, by lifting them out gently with tweezers
  • germination time: 5-180 days

Cutting:

  • cut stem cuttings of 10-15 cm
  • let the cuttings dry a few days to several weeks in a dry, sunny or light spot
  • plant the cuttings in dry substrate and do not water before roots have appeared

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