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How to grow Dragon Fruit: cuttings, in pods, seeds, indoors

May 9, 2020

In this article we will teach you how to grow the Dragon Fruit plant. You will learn to differentiate the different species and varieties, the morphological and botanical characteristics of the plant (root, stem, flower, fruit), how it is grown (by seeds and/or cuttings) and finally its disadvantages, pests and diseases.

The pitahaya plant belongs to the cactus familyand is known worldwide as “dragon fruit”. Its fruit is sweet and refreshing, as well as rich in fibers, essential minerals, simple sugars (oligosaccharides) and antioxidants such as betalains, which is why its cultivation has currently aroused growing interest as a food, industrial and economic resource.

Origin of the Dragon Fruit plant

This plant with gourmet fruits is native to forested regions of North, Central and South America and is known in Latin America by the common name of pitahaya or pitaya (Esquivel, P. 2004).

Pitahaya varieties: taxonomy

In scientific terms, the varieties of this plant are grouped into two genera: Selenicereus and Hylocereus; and the best known and appreciated speciesworldwide are Selenicereus megalanthus (the yellow pitahaya), and Hylocereus undatus, (the red pitahaya or Dragon Fruit) which is the most studied, due to its wide morphological, physiological and genetic variation (Janick, J. 2010).

Since 1980 efforts have been made to cultivate cacti of the genera Hylocereus and Selenicereus.

Hylocereus undatus: the red Dragon Fruit

The red pitaya plant (Hylocereus undatus) is a climber, with triangular stems and pink flowers, although it is more attractive in appearance, the red pitahaya is more delicate and vulnerable to damage in the post-harvest phase (Becerra, 1986).

Hylocereus undatus pitahaya or dragon fruit
Cross-section of the speciesHylocereus undatus(red pitahaya or dragon fruit). Source: SMasters strong, [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Within the Hylocereus genus, a total of 14 species are grouped, the most representative being Hylocereus undatus, H. polyrhizus, H. costaricensis, H. triangularis and H. purpusii, traditionally known as red pitahaya.

These are cultivated mainly in Central America (especially in some regions of Mexico) and Israel (Esquivel, P. 2004)

Due to its potential Hylocereus has been introduced for commercial purposes in the Bahamas, Bermuda, the United States (Florida and California), Australia, Thailand, India, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Israel and other countries. For its part, H. undatus has taken on great commercial value in Southeast Asia (Nerd et al., 2002).

how to plant pitahaya
Red pitahaya cultivation. Photo by Soo Ann Woon from Pexels

Selenicereus megalanthus: the yellow pitahaya

The yellow pitahaya Selenicereus spp., with 20 species (Tel, Z. 2004) are considered species with commercial value in South America in countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.

yellow pitahaya or Selenicereus megalanthus
Yellow pitahaya cut. Source: Image by Bilal Benabidi on Pixabay

For its part, Colombia is the main supplier of yellow pitahaya in the world; then there are Israel and Mexico. The Netherlands, Germany, France and the United Kingdom are the main export countries for Colombian pitahaya (Garc铆a, M. 2003).

The yellow pitahaya species (Selenicereus megalanthus) climbs on trees and rocks; the flowers are white; the angle between the buds of cacti is concave. This characteristic allows us to differentiate it from the red pitahaya, in which the angle between the buds is convex.

The yellow pitahaya is the one of greatest agronomic interest because its fruits are sweeter than those of the red pitahaya; In addition, they are more resistant in the postharvest stage, especially in transport and storage (Becerra, 1990; Garc铆a, 2003).

On the other hand, Forero et al. 2008 indicates that the shelf life of the yellow pitahaya lasts four weeks, that is, twice the duration of the red pitaya, which is two weeks.

Botanical characteristics of the plant

Stem

Pitahaya plants are made up of a xerophytic, phylloclad, triangular and succulent green stem that assumes photosynthetic functions due to the abundant presence of chloroplasts.

red dragon fruit
Red dragon fruit Source: Mr. Ali Mr. Engineer specialty Dragon Fruit [CC BY-SA 4.0]

They have three edges, they are concave on the sides, with areoles on their edges, which have groups of spines from 2 to 4 mm, considered as modified leaves (Garc铆a, M. 2003).

The pitahaya is a perennial, climbing plant, because its stem prevents them from supporting themselves, in their natural environment they use the trunk of a neighboring tree, rocks or in nurseries they use tutors as a support.

Root

Plants that grow in this way are called hemiepiphytes; that is, they grow on the trunk of a tree and their root maintains contact with the ground but they also develop aerial roots to support themselves on the trunk (Rodr铆guez, C. 2000).

Flowers

The flowers have the peculiarity of opening only once during the night hours, in a period of one hour to an hour and a half after the sun goes down, and they close approximately six hours after sunrise (Weiss et al., 1994). which is why it is known as “queen of the night”.

pitaya flower bud
Pitahaya flower bud. Image by Antonio Jose Cespedes from Pixabay

Another characteristic of its flowers is that they are hermaphrodite and actinomorphic, they are inserted directly on the stems, they have a tubular shape, they are large (from 20 to 40 cm in length and up to 25 cm in their largest diameter), the male sexual whorl is made up of numerous spirally arranged stamens that produce pollen grains.

The gynoecium ovary is inferior with numerous carpels that extend into a single style covered by scaly bracts.

flower of the pitahaya plant Hylocereus undatus
Pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus) blooming in Kona. Source: Brocken Inaglory [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The sepals are yellow; white, yellow or pink petals (Weiss, J. et al., 1994). This flower, in addition to being showy, has a nectarial chamber, since it exhales a delicate fragrance with the smell of bananas and vanilla, making it very attractive to pollinators.

Natural pollination is carried out by bats that visit the flowers at night, and by bees during the day, attracted by the nectar they produce.

The flowers are trumpet-shaped; at the beginning they are in an erect position and when they open they direct their position towards the light.

Flower of dragon fruit
Pitahaya flower (Public Domain)

Once pollinated, the flowers take a hanging position and last a few hours; the formation of the fruit, from pollination to the harvest stage, takes between 4 and 8 months, depending on the temperature (Becerra, 1990; Garc铆a, 2003).

The budding period from the areola to the open flower lasts from 45 to 50 days; from open flower to fruit is 100 to 120 days (Becerra, 1987).

Fruit

It is a globose or subglobose berry (dehiscent in Hylocereus and indehiscent in Selenicereus), it measures on average 8 to 15 cm long and 6 to 10 cm in diameter. Unlike the fruits of other cacti, such as the prickly pear, its fruit does not have thorns, instead it exhibits very showy bracts (Montesinos, J. et al., 2015).

pitaya fruit
Pitahaya fruits. Photo by Soo Ann Woon from Pexels

The maturation of the pitahaya fruit is the process where the fruit reaches the sensory characteristics suitable for consumption. This occurs as a result of the deep metabolic and chemical restructuring that takes place during the maturation process and concludes in evident changes mainly in color, flavor, smell, and texture (Alvarado-Romero, 2014).

The fruits complete their development in 39 to 52 days counted from the opening of the flower bud until they reach maturity for consumption on the plant (Weiss et al., 1994). The maturation of the pitahaya fruit begins with a reddish coloration and ends with the fall of the fruit; to avoid the latter, growers harvestat an intermediate stage.

Cultivation or Propagation of Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit is propagated sexually and asexually by cuttings or grafts; Although the seed has good germination power, it is not recommended, since the plant from seeds tends to degenerate (Becerra, 1986).

Pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus)
Pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus)
Quellenangabe / Credit: Maja Dumat
Creative Commons Licence BY 2.0

According to Gunasena, H. et al. (2010) in the pitahaya, the main form of propagation is vegetative, from the stems, cuttings or cladodes, naturally through the separation of the stems and in the case of cultivated plants, by direct transplantation in the ground. definitive or its placement in bags with substrate until the formation of new stems.

Pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus)
Pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus)
Quellenangabe / Credit: Maja Dumat
Creative Commons Licence BY 2.0

They also reproduce by means of seeds, spread by birds and other animals; fundamentally bats in the case of red pitahayas (Osorio, O. et al. 2001); however, for cultivation purposes, sexual propagation is not recommended, since the plants require too much care while transplanting and take four to six years to reach their reproductive stage (Gunasena, H. et al. 2010)

The importance of pitahaya cultivation is evidenced by the great genetic variability, adaptability to various environmental conditions, productivity, profitability.

Pitahaya cultivation in Palora
Pitahaya cultivation in Palora. Source: David C.S. [CC BY-SA 4.0]

It is a crop with great adaptability to environmental conditions, profitable and in demand in regional and international markets.

Disadvantages

Becerra (1990) reports that, in the first plantations, the cultivation of pitahaya showed its rusticity; As crops increased, pest and disease problems arose that currently require greater control.

The presence of numerous pest insects is affected by the appearance of some pathogens that affect fruit production, generating preferences in crops.

Diseases

Pitahaya stem soft rot is a disease associated with two bacteria, which is present in some producing regions of the species H. undatus and H. purpusii.

Bacterial action induces rot after 15 days of its presence in the crop.

The undatus species is the most susceptible, due to the deficiency of Ca and N, which favors the development of the pathogen.

In general, the severity of this condition in pitahaya plants is associated with nutritional deficiencies (Valencia, B. et al., 2003).

Among the most important diseases of fungal origin, anthracnose (Colletotrichum gloesporoides) is reported with an incidence of 16.6%, basal rot (Fusarium oxysporum) with 29.3%, sooty mold damage (Cladosporium) 34.2%, wilt (F. oxysporum) with 36.6%, stem rot (F. oxysporum) with 47.5% and fruit scab with 48% (Becerra, 1990).

Pests (Insects)

Regarding pests and insects, the fruit fly or South American fly (Anastrepha fraterculus Wiedemann) is one of the biggest problems in pitahaya crops.

pitaya flower with insects
Pitahaya flower with insects. Image by AuristonPacheco from Pixabay

The damage is caused when the adult oviposits in the flower and when the larva hatches and feeds inside the ripe fruit; the pulp turns brown, being darker towards the outside of the galleries that also form holes in the stem (Becerra, 1990; Rodr铆guez et al., 1993; Garc铆a, 2003).

Other insects that negatively affect pitahaya cultivation have also been reported, such as the stem and fruit borer (Lepidoptera, Pyralidae), the stem miner (Lepidoptera, Gracilaridae), Ceratitiscapitata and Anastrephaludens; the arrieras or cutter ants (Acromyrmexocto espinosus) and the fire ants (Solenopsis geminata) (Garc铆a, 2003).

References:

  • Esquivel, P., & Araya, Q. Y. (2012). Caracter铆sticas del fruto de la pitahaya (Hylocereus sp.) y su potencial de uso en la industria alimentaria. Revista Venezolana de Ciencia y Tecnolog铆a de Alimentos, 3(1), 113-129. (PDF)
  • Montesinos, J., Rodr铆guez, L., Ortiz, R., Fonseca, M., Ru铆z, G., y Guevara, F. 2015. PITAHAYA (Hylocereus spp.) un recurso fitogen茅tico con historia y futuro para tr贸pico seco Mexicano. Cultivos Tropicales, vol. 36 (no.especial), 67-76. (PDF)
  • Becerra, L. (1986). The cultivation of pitaya. Bogota: National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (PDF).
  • Becerra, L. (1987). Pitaya: a crop with a future. Modern Horticulture, (5):7-10. (PDF)
  • Esquivel, Patricia. 2004. Los frutos de las cact谩ceas y su potencial como materia prima. Agronom铆a Mesoamericana. 15(2):215-219. (PDF)
  • Esquivel, Patricia; Stintzing, Florian C. and Carle, Reinhold. 2007c. Phenolic compound profiles and their corresponding antioxidant capacity of purple pitaya (Hylocereus sp.) genotypes. Zeitschrift f眉r Naturforschung. 62c(9/10):636-64 (Fuente)
  • Forero, A., Medina, J., Garc铆a, M. y Reinel-Garcia, H. Dise帽o y construcci贸n a nivel piloto de un sistema de almacenamiento para pitaya. Corpoica Cienc Tecnol Agropecuaria 2008; 9(1):40-55. (PDF)
  • Gunasena, H . P. M . ; Pushpakumara, D. K. N. G. y Kariyawasam, M. 鈥樷楧ragon Fruit Hylocereus undatus (Haw.) Britton and Rose鈥欌. En: Pushpakumara D. K. N. G., Gunasena H. P. M., y Singh V. P., Underutilized fruit trees in Sri Lanka, edit. World Agroforestry Center., New Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 110鈥142, ISBN 978-955-9224-33-4. (Fuente)
  • Garc铆a, M.C. 2003. Pitaya: harvest and postharvest. Bogot谩: Corpoica-Pronatta. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (PDF).
  • Janick, J. Horticultural Reviews. vol. 18, edit. John Wiley & Sons, 22 de junio de 2010, 402 p., ISBN 978-0-470-65059-2.
  • Osorio, O. R.; Varela, G.; Mat铆nez, C. L. y Morales, J. E. 鈥樷楾he effect of substrate and age of transplant on the establishment of Hylocereus undatus Haworth鈥欌. Cact谩ceas y Suculentas Mexicanas, vol. 46, no. 1, 2001, pp. 4鈥15, ISSN 0526-717X.
  • Quintero, M. L (25 de octubre de 2020) “C贸mo sembrar pitaya” recuperado de pitaya.store.
  • Rodr铆guez Canto, A. Gu铆a T茅cnica para la producci贸n de plantas de pitahaya en viveros [en l铆nea]. edit. Universidad Aut贸noma de Chapingo, Chapingo, M茅xico, 1997, 70 p., ISBN 968-884-432.
  • Rodr铆guez, C. A. 鈥樷楶roducci贸n y comercializaci贸n de pitahayas en M茅xico鈥欌. Claridades Agropecuarias, no. 82, 2000, pp. 3-22, ISSN 0188-9974. (PDF)
  • Valencia, B. A. J.; Cruz, H. P. y Rodr铆guez, C. A. 鈥樷楢vances en la etiolog铆a y manejo de la pudrici贸n blanda de tallos de pitahaya, Hylocereus undatus H. (Cactaceae)鈥欌. Fitosanidad (Cuba), vol. 7, no. 2, 2003, pp. 11鈥17, ISSN 1562-3009, 1818-1686. (PDF)
  • Weiss, J.; Nerd, A. y Mizrahi, Y. 鈥樷楩lowering Behavior and Pollination Requirements in Climbing Cacti with Fruit Crop Potential鈥欌. HortScience, vol. 29, no. 12, 12 de enero de 1994, pp. 1487-1492, ISSN 0018-5345, 2327-9834. (PDF)

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