Dragon fruit, or pitaya, is an unusual fruit that’s becoming much more common in our fruit section of the grocer. You will no doubt know the fruit if you’ve travelled to places like Bali, Singapore or Malaysia, as it’s commonly available on fruit platters in hotel restaurants throughout Asia. Dragon fruit originated in Central America, but the world’s biggest commercial production is actually in South East Asia.
It is an extremely beautiful, bright pink-skinned fruit that begins with huge dazzling cactus flowers. The skin of the dragon fruit is a thin rind, usually covered in scales, and the center of the fruit is made up of a purple/red, yellow or white, sweet-tasting pulp.
From a gardener’s point of view, I’m most fascinated by this fruit because it’s the product of a climbing cactus that can be grown as a weeping standard or as a screening plant against a wall or fence.
- Hylocereus undatus is the red- or pink-skinned form with a translucent white flesh scattered with small black seeds throughout. It’s described as having a slight melon flavour, although I tend to think it’s almost flavourless with a pleasing texture.
- Hylocereus polyrhizus has purple-red flesh. It’s my absolute favourite as it’s succulent and juicy with a sweet flavour you will want to have more of.
- The yellow dragon fruit, Selenicereus megalanthus, is much smaller in size and is less sweet. It has larger edible seeds. It appears to be less vigorous compared to the other two in my garden and its flowers are less spectacular.
Dragon fruit are night-flowering cacti that have spectacular, intoxicatingly fragrant flowers. They are self-fertile, taking just 45 days from flower to a ripe fruit weighing up to a kilogram in the summer months. There are some different cultivars now becoming available that are the commercial improved forms and have even higher productivity results.
Dragon fruit love a bright sunny position in a rich, organic soil and perform best when watered three times a week. Interestingly, the farms I’ve seen them grown at in places like Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia have heavy volcanic soil types, but always great drainage.
For best results, enrich the soil with humus and add some controlled-release plant food such as Troforte M Fruit and Citrus. It’s also vitally important you are prepared to stake these plants one way or the other. For example, a large pine log 2m tall with a rose hoop at the top could be used to train the plant up, then let it branch out and cascade down off the hoop the same way a weeping rose would. Tying the plant to a very strong wall trellis is another option. A dragon fruit is ready for picking when the scales on the outside of the fruit start to brown and dry.
As far as care goes, there is not a lot to do. In fact, once you’ve planted your dragon fruit, it’s best to leave it alone and let it do its own thing. As it grows, keep tying it to its support and watch out for caterpillars, which are sometimes a problem. Keep feeding your plant with a fruit-promoting controlled-release plant food for best crop set results.
Where to find the plants
Dragon fruit plants are starting to become more commonly found in garden centre fruit departments, but if you know someone with one, grab a cutting – they are so easy to grow that way. Alternatively, a slightly calloused cutting costs $9.95 from online retail nursery Daleys Fruit Tree Nursery (visit www.daleysfruit.com.au). An established plant typically costs around $20 to $30 from a specialist nursery.
Health benefits of dragon fruit
- The edible seeds in the dragon fruit contain heart-healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as some protein.
- It is high in vitamin C and dietary fibre, with almost 1g of fiber per 100g of the fresh fruit.
- It is a good natural source of antioxidants that help prevent damage to body cells from free radicals, thought to contribute to cancer and other major health problems.
About the Author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, local WA food program Our State on a Plate and the Destination WA travel series. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.