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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: The evergreen stems have no leaves.
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, 3-6 times a year, mid spring to mid-fall, or as long as temperatures stay above 80°F.
Self-fruitful: Some species and varieties will self-pollinate and others do better with a second plant for pollination. Hand pollination will improve fruit set on some 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, red or yellow skin with prominent, usually green, wings, easy to peel. The edible flesh is white, pink, red or purple, juicy, with tiny, edible black seeds dotted throughout, and a slightly sweet taste. Red-fleshed fruit are often considered to be the best tasting, with yellow-skinned fruit also flavorful, and red-skinned, white-fleshed fruit the most bland.
Months for fruit to ripen: 45-50 days. A fruit is ripe when its skin is fully colored, the wings fold outward, and two twists can remove it from the stem. A fruit is over-ripe when it falls from the stem. One plant may produce up to 220 pounds of fruit after 4-5 years.
Storage after harvest: Unwashed fruit can be refrigerated up to five days.
Leaves: None.
Stems: Green, segmented, with 3-5 fins extending along the entire length of the segment. Wavy edges are present on the fins of some species, and each segment can have several small spines along its edges or be spineless. Several branches can grow from each segment joint.
Roots: Aerial rootlets, which attach the vine to a vertical surface, grow from each stem segment.
Species of Note:
Hylocereus undatus - fruit with red skin, white flesh.
Hylocereus costaricenes - red skin, purple-red flesh.
Hylocereus lemairei (synonym H. polyrhizus) - red skin, red flesh.
Hylocereus trigonus - yellow skin, white flesh.
Selenicereus (synonym Hylocereus) megalanthus - yellow skin, white flesh.
Wildlife: Attracts bats, moths and bees for pollination.
Toxic / Danger: Possible spiny stem edges.
Origin: Mexico, Central America and northern South America, in lowland, tropical, deciduous forests. This cactus is often found climbing trees in its native environment. These species have probably been 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 part shade most of the day in hot regions. It should have a minimum of four hours of direct sun a day, in the morning.
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. It 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 an organic fertilizer with additional nitrogen; during blossoming, use an organic fertilizer with a minimal nitrogen content.
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 the 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.
The 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.


Additional common names of Dragon Fruit are Pitahaya and Pitaya.
In hot, dry climates, Cereus repandus: Apple Cactus is easier to grow.

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Hylocereus fruit

Hylocereus cactus

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Latest update: December, 2018