Daily Archives: January 21, 2011

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Actually, more likely breakfast.

Meet Hylocereus undatus, more commonly known as the pitaya, bearer of one of those faddish pop health-food cure-alls: Dragon Fruit.

From little pitayas mighty dragonfruit growThe pitaya is an epiphytic cactus of southern Mexico, Central and South America. I have grown other ornamental epiphytic cacti and, in the spirit of trying to aim my plant-growing tendencies toward more edible fare, I felt it only fitting that I add a few pitaya to the collection.

The trick is in finding a source for these plants in the United States. Despite a rapidly growing world demand for Dragon Fruit, the only U.S. source I could find was one Samuel Rodriguez of Miami, who sells his wares on eBay. Luckily for me, Mr. Rodriguez knows what he is doing, and sent large, vigorous, well-packed plants with splendid root systems.

They can’t take sub-freezing weather, and so I had them bunk down next to some ornamental epiphytes and a few stray overwintering hibiscus. But even in semi-dormancy, the pitayas have been growing rapidly. This belies the fact that these plants, in nature, are vine-like cacti that can grow 20 feet tall, up the side of a jungle tree.

In commercial operations in places such as Vietnam, where Dragon Fruit are wildly popular, they are grown in large fields, lashed three or four to a head-high post, like this. As their roots don’t require a lot of space, I am considering growing them in containers around a post or stakes. Unless I obtain a greenhouse in the coming year, I’ll need to be bringing the pitayas inside during the winter.

If you go looking for Dragon Fruit, you’ll run across wild claims of deliciousness and cancer-fighting abilities. As best I can tell, this is mostly marketing hogwash. People who’ve tried them say they are refreshing, but somewhat bland unless cut up and included in fruit salad or some other dish. While I can’t speak to their antioxidant powers, analysis does show they’re high in phosphorus and various vitamins. That’s pretty good.

However, according to my brother-in-law the food safety professor, eating Dragon Fruit may cause your urine to turn red, and fluoresce under a black light. Seriously, could it get any better than that?

Posted in Fruit, Garden