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Growing Dragon Fruit: Hylocereus species

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At least five species of plants in the Cactaceae (Cactus) family produce Dragon Fruit. Most belong to the Hylocereus genus and are night-blooming. Dragon fruit is grown commercially in South and Central America, Mexico, the United States, Spain, Australia and Southeast Asia.

Form: Climbing cactus vine.
Lifespan: 20 years or more.
Leaf retention: No leaves. Evergreen stems.
Growth rate: Rapid.
Mature Size: Up to 20' long.
Flowers: Large, white, bell-shaped, sweet fragrance, lasting only one night. Unpollinated flowers may sometimes stay open the next morning for pollination by bees. The flowers produce no nectar.
Bloom: At night, mid spring to mid-fall, or as long as temperatures stay above 80°F, 3-6 times a year.
Self-fruitful: Some species and varieties will self-pollinate and others need a second plant for pollination because they are self-incompatible. Having a second plant improves the size of the fruit crop for most species. Hylocereus plants however, need to be pollinated within their genus or ripening will be delayed and fruit size and sugar content will be reduced.
Years before fruiting: After a stem segment is planted, 6 months to one year. From seed, the plant can take up to 7 years to flower.
Fruit: Oval to egg-shaped, one-half to 3 pounds, skin is red or yellow with prominent, usually green, wings, easy to peel. Edible flesh is white, pink, red or purple, juicy, with tiny, edible black seeds dotted throughout, and a slightly sweet taste. Red-fleshed fruit is often considered to be the best tasting. One plant may produce up to 220 pounds of fruit after 4-5 years.
Months for fruit to ripen: 45-50 days. Fruit is ripe when its skin is fully colored, the wings fold outward, and two twists can remove it. Fruit is over-ripe when it falls from the stem.
Storage after harvest: Unwashed fruit can be refrigerated up to five days.
Leaves: None.
Stems: Green, segmented, 3-5 fins extending along entire length of segment, wavy edges on fins of some species, many-branched from segment joints. Each segment may have several small spines along its edges or be spineless.
Roots: Arial roots grow from each stem segment which attach the vine to a vertical surface.
Species of Note:
Hylocereus undatus - fruit with red skin, white flesh, self-pollinating
Hylocereus costaricenes - red skin, purple-red flesh, not self-pollinating
Hylocereus lemairei (syn. H. polyrhizus) - red skin, red flesh, not self-pollinating
Hylocereus trigonus - yellow skin, white flesh
Selenicereus (syn. Hylocereus) megalanthus - yellow skin, white flesh, self-pollinating.
Wildlife: Attracts bats, moths and bees for pollination.
Toxic / Danger: No. Spiny stem edges.
Origin: Mexico, Central America and northern South America, in lowland, tropical, deciduous forests. Often found climbing trees in its native environment. Probably cultivated more than 1000 years.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 10-11. Damaged below 31°F. Does not like extended cold spells below 40°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Needs temperatures below 100°F. The optimal temperature range is 66-77°F.
Sun: Full sun in moderate temperatures to all day part shade in hot regions.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Water after becoming established: During flowering and fruiting, just enough water so that the soil stays moist but not wet. This is a tropical cactus, not one suited to the desert. Excess rainfall or irrigation may cause flower drop and split fruit. Can tolerate monthly water during the cold season when not flowering or fruiting.
Soil: Well drained, sandy, high organic content, slightly moist but never wet, pH 6.1-7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral). The plants are salt tolerant.
Fertilize: During the growing season, use a 2-1-1 N-P-K ratio; during blossoming, use a 1-1-2 N-P-K ratio.
Mulch: With compost to reduce soil evaporation.
Spacing: 8' apart.
Planting: The soil should be allowed to dry completely before planting to reduce the probability of active soil diseases. The soil is then irrigated at the time of planting and kept slightly moist thereafter.
Cactus vines are easier to harvest when allowed to climb a strong trellis or post-and-top-frame structure that can support 250 pounds of stem weight. Wires should not be used because they cut into the stem as it grows heavier.
The plant can grow on the ground or on a rock pile. It can also be grown in a container and moved indoors during cold winters.
First Year Care: Provide part shade for first 4 months.
Prune: Remove all side branches that emerge on the newly planted stem until it reaches the trellis. Once high enough, the stem should be tied with a thick rope to the bottom, then half-way up as it grows. When it reaches the top of the trellis, the stem should be cut to encourage lateral branching which should also be tied down.
Remove diseased, damaged or dead stems and cut back those that reach the soil. Remove stems that interfere with the harvest and those that result in crowding. After harvest, prune extra and crowded stems. Treat cuts with a fungicide as necessary. Sterilize pruning tools before each use.
Fruit may have to be thinned when small if it grows abundantly.
Litter: Low. Fruit drop if not harvested.
Propagation: Stem cuttings - cut the stem base on a slant, then treat with a fungicide and let dry for a week in the shade so the cut will callous over. Plant the cuttings, optionally using a root hormone, in the ground or in pots. Seed is unreliable.
Pests: Cage the roots at planting if gophers are a problem. Fungal infections cause brown spots on the stem. Bacterial infections cause soft stem rot when aggravated by a calcium and nitrogen deficiency.
Uses: Food plant. The fruit is eaten raw, often chilled, and also served as a juice, as a fruit sorbet, or made into a syrup. Unopened flower buds can be cooked as a vegetable. The flowers can be eaten or used to make tea.

Other common names are Pitahaya and Pitaya. Other edible, fruiting cactus are Stenocereus gummosus: sour pitaya, and Cereus repandus: Peruvian apple cactus.

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Hylocereus fruit

Hylocereus cactus

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