The dragon fruit plant originates in Central and South America. The plant was introduced to Vietnam by the French over one hundred years ago—bringing it over as an ornamental plant.
The plant is nicknamed “Queen of the Night”, “Moonflower” and “Lady of the Night” because the large flowers only bloom at night time.
The Vietnamese, like the Mexicans, realized that the plant had great tasting fruit and therefore began to cultivate it. In fact, now the fruit is grown in many Southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii, as a large-scale commercial crop.
DRAGON FRUIT PLANT DESCRIPTION
It may be hard to believe, but this plant is a member of the cactus family. Although it doesn’t look like your typical ornamental cactus, it does require dry areas to grow properly just like other cacti. It does best in soil with high levels of organic material. The plant’s ornate flowers are white and large, measuring about 14 inches long or more and have a sweet, pleasant fragrance when they bloom. Oddly enough, the flowers of the dragon fruit plant bloom only for one night, although the plants can have between 4 and 6 fruit cycles in a year.
The dragonfruit, just like its name implies, has an exotic, flamboyant appearance. It can be either bright pink, red, or yellow skinned with green spines. The fruit has an oval shape, and inside its flesh, it is usually white or red with black seeds dotted all over, an appearance similar to the seeds of a kiwi fruit. Dragon fruit can have a sweet taste or a slightly sour one depending on the type you’re eating. The numerous seeds in the flesh of the fruit add a crunchy texture to its already amazing flavor. Dragon fruit of the genus Stenocereus is called pitaya, while that of the genus Hylocereus is called pitahaya. Of all the types of dragon fruit, most people typically prefer that of the red fruit to eat raw because it tastes the sweetest.
There are different types of dragon fruit you can choose from and that you can grow – all of them will maintain their green appearance until they become bright yellow or red in coloration. Let’s look at three of the most popular types of dragon fruit plants out there:
- Hylocereus Undatus – The fruits of this one are white-fleshed and the exterior is actually red in color.
- Hylocereus Costaricensis – Both the shell and flesh of these fruits are red in color – in fact the flesh is almost blood-red.
- Hylocereus Megalanthus – These fruits have the same white flesh and a yellow shell. This shell is thornier than that of your typical dragon fruit plant, making this variety a rarer one to spot in gardens.
HOW TO GROW DRAGON FRUIT
To grow dragon fruit, you can use seeds or stem cuttings – the latter being the easiest method. Since the plant is closely related to the orchid cacti or epiphyllu, the pitahaya (dragon fruit plant) can be cross pollinated with it. Seeds from the dragon fruit plant are best obtained when the fruit is unblemished and overripe. You then need to clean them thoroughly and store them once they are dry. The plant will germinate 10-14 days after planted if put in a shallow planter full of soil or compost mix. Since this plant is a cactus, overwatering is a concern you should look out for. The plant will need something to grab onto as it grows. It is usually planted as a climber to cover chain link fencing due to the heavy weight of its vine.
Since dragon fruit is part of the cacti family, it also requires plenty of sun. However this doesn’t also apply to the base of the plant, which can stand a bit of shade. The tips of the dragon fruit plant require direct sunlight though, to ensure the flowers bloom well and the plant will ultimately yield great fruits.
Once the plant reaches about ten pounds, it will produce a flower. Since the flowers only bloom at night, the plant has to be cross pollinated during this time by bats or moths. By morning, the flowers start to wither and die due to the rising heat, which is when the fruit begins to grow. Like other cacti, the dragon fruit plant will take root in soil if a healthy chunk of it is cut off the main plant and then planted. This plant can handle temperatures from short periods of frost to 104 degrees F – quite the range!
Make sure you water this plant as you would water any other relating cactus plant, with caution and mindfulness. The upper part of the soil needs to be dry to the touch and when you water the plant, you’ll need to ensure the soil becomes moist, not drenched in water.
Pests That Are Attracted to the Dragon Fruit Plant
The pests that will most likely be attracted to this plant are aphids and mealybugs – these tend to suck the sap right out of the plant. Aphids may also attract ants that further damage the dragon fruit plant. Mites are also a hindrance to the overall well-being of the plant – although they will not kill it, they will prevent its healthy development.
If your plant has an infection, you’ll most likely be able to recognize it by the so-called Dragon Spots that appear on its leaves and stems. Bacteria can cause all sorts of diseases for your dragon fruit plant, such as soft stem rot – the end of the branches will be affected by this. These are types of contagious illnesses, so make sure you sterilize your clippers after each use. You will also need to pay attention to potential sunburn that may indeed occur in the hottest months of the year.
Potting Your Dragon Fruit Plant
Dragon fruit plants can easily be potted, which ensures you can quickly move them back inside whenever temperatures drop. The pots need to have proper drainage, so the roots don’t retain too much moisture causing them to rot. Larger pots are the best possible option if you’re looking to plant dragon fruit plants – consider at least 15 gallons in size.
Countries that often grow this plant are Mexico, Ecuador, Columbia, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka among others. Their exposure to higher temperatures and sunny climates make them ideal settings for these plants to thrive in.
Dragon Fruit Growing Season
The hot months of summer create all the magic these plants need to reach maturity. The dragon fruit plant will grow quickly and rapidly, with blooms occurring from July through October – blooming only one night each year. One single dragon fruit plant can produce fruits for 20 to 30 years, so it’s quite prolific. If you plant your own dragon fruit, you can rejoice for the steady and long-lasting fruit crop it yields.
What’s In the Dragon Fruit?
Dragon fruit has made quite a name for itself, not only because of the peculiar and exotic way it looks, as well as for its pleasant taste, but also due to many health benefits that were revealed in time. This antioxidant fruit is one of the most exotic finds and a true superfruit when it comes to the vitamins and minerals it contains. Let’s take a closer look at what such a fruit contains in terms of nutritional value and how it helps boost your immune system. Having said this, it’s important to remember that 100 g of dragon fruit contains the following:
- 1.2 grams of protein – it’s important to remember that protein takes care of everything that has to do with your tissue health. Cartilages, skin and bones will also benefit from a protein-rich diet.
3 grams of fiber – this is extremely important to the body because it regulates your intestinal transit. Your blood sugar and cholesterol levels will also go down thanks to a good fiber intake. You’ll feel full and satiated, without needing to snack on anything extra for hours to come.
- 10% magnesium – this very important mineral is made to regulate your moods and prevent depression and anxiety from developing. Muscle contraction will also be properly regulated thanks to this super mineral in the body.
- 4% iron – this is another essential mineral to the body’s well-being, since it helps haemoglobin function properly – this protein carries oxygen in the blood and makes sure your entire body is supplied with healthy levels of oxygen. A lack of iron in the body will typically cause anemia, a condition that leaves you with a feeling of fatigue, leg cramps, rapid heartbeat and insomnia, among other symptoms.
- 3% vitamin C – this important vitamin will help prevent iron deficiency, may reduce your risk of chronic disease, may lower your risk of heart disease, may help better manage high blood pressure and will boost your immunity.
The calorie count for 100 g of dragon fruit is pretty low, barely reaching 60, which makes this fruit a highly nutrient-dense one. This fruit also contains a series of powerful compounds that help combat against free radicals, the ones that are responsible for cellular aging.
In the dragon fruit pulp you’ll find these three antioxidants, among others:
- Flavonoids – these antioxidants are linked to improved brain health and a decreased risk of heart disease.
- Betalains – these are deep red pigments that will protect against bad LDL cholesterol oxidation.
- Hydroxycinnamates – test tube studies, such as The Role of Phenolic Compounds in the Fight Against Cancer–A Review, show how these compounds may play an active anticancer role.
Antioxidants do not only protect the body’s cells against the natural aging process, but also play an important part regarding the effects of chronic inflammation in the body.
According to a study, Effect of Dragon Fruit Extract on Oxidative Stress and Aortic Stiffness in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetes in Rats, the rats that received an extract from the fruit noticed a 35% decrease in the marker of free-radical damage called malondialdehyde. However studies of the effects of dragon fruit on human diabetes patients are still inconsistent, so additional scientific research is needed before concluding that a steady intake of dragon plant may help with diabetes.
This plant is used ornamentally in people’s gardens, and parts of it are used to produce food color. Dragon fruit at its best is used in syrups, popsicles, pudding, ice cream, and fruit salads. Some people love to serve it raw and chilled, cutting it in half and eating the flesh with a spoon, or even as a dried fruit.
Because dragonfruit is one of those fiber rich fruits, it can be used to avoid bowel problems while improving your digestive system. Dragon fruit is also high in vitamin C, as well as vitamins B1, B2, and B3. These vitamins allow you to strengthen your skin and your immune system at the same time. A diet with regular intake of dragon fruit will not only provide you with more vitamins, but minerals too. This fruit contains calcium, phosphorous, and iron. That’s right, this tasty treat can make a world of difference for your bones and teeth.
The peoples of Asia believe that the fruit has great medicinal value. According to them, it can lower high blood pressure and blood glucose levels in Type 2 Diabetes. This could be due in part to dragon fruit’s antioxidant properties and lack of cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat, which all lead to stabilization of blood pressure. The seeds of the fruit lower the risk of heart disease because they contain omega (3 and 6) fatty acids. Dragon fruit is full of phytoalbumins, which are known to reduce cancer growth, as well as lycopene, which is currently being researched as a means of preventing prostate cancer. This fruit brings good benefits all around!
As you can see, the dragon fruit plant is a resilient and hardy one, that makes justice to the cacti family it pertains to. It’s easy to plant, only requiring plenty of sun and mindful watering. In exchange, it will return a huge and delicious crop of dragon fruits. There are three main types of dragon fruit plant to choose from and you may just as well pot it in your backyard, on the condition that you bring it indoors whenever weather conditions become cold and unfavorable.
What Does Dragon Fruit Taste Like?
While this exotic fruit might look very unusual, the taste is not that extreme. It’s described as being something like a pear or a kiwi fruit, but slightly sweeter. It is not an intense flavor but if you want the sweetest, the red variant is perhaps best.
That’s because the white dragon fruit flesh is a little more subtle. The red flesh is still not extremely sweet but it does have a little more to it.
How to Tell if Dragon Fruit is Ripe?
You have a ripe dragon fruit that’s ready to eat if the skin has turned from green to red or yellow, and the ‘wings’ – the spiky growths coming off the fruit – have started to turn brown and wither.
If the tropical fruit has not yet changed color, or if the wings are still looking healthy, it is best to wait a little longer if you want the most fresh dragon fruit that’s ready to eat.
How good is dragon fruit for you?
Dragon fruit offers a number of health benefits. It is high in vitamins C, B1, B2 and B3 and is a good source of antioxidants that can improve your overall health, boost your immune system and tackle inflammation in the body.
Dragon fruit also contains magnesium, a mineral that can help to regulate your mood – meaning that it is not just beneficial to your physical health but your mental health too.
Is dragon fruit safe to eat everyday?
As long as you don’t have an allergy to pitaya fruits, then you should be safe to eat dragon fruit everyday. It does have some excellent vitamins and minerals and a controlled daily portion can contribute towards a healthy balanced diet.
There are a number of ways you can vary your dragon fruit intake too. It’s tasty when eaten raw in a fruit salad, or blend it with coconut milk and other tropical fruit like mango for an exotic fruit smoothie.
Does dragon fruit help you lose weight?
Dragon fruit is low calorie – around 60 in 100g – whilst being an excellent source of various types of fiber including soluble fibers. This means that it could be a very useful addition to your diet if you want to lose weight.
It is nutritious and fulfilling but will not heavily increase your calorie intake, while fibers can improve your digestive system and keep everything working as it should, which helps to maintain the body’s natural processes which can aid you in losing weight.
Can you grow dragon fruit in winter?
It is extremely difficult to grow dragon fruit in winter. The plant needs a lot of sun and mild to hot temperatures to thrive, without being excessively hot either. The plant can withstand some mild frost but sustained cold temperatures will kill it.
The plant tens to bear fruit for around five months of the year, from early summer through until around mid fall.
What climate do dragon fruits grow in?
Dragon fruit needs a warm and sunny climate to grow, so the plant thrives in countries around Central and South America and parts of Asia. They thrive in areas where there is no frost and mild winters, although they can tolerate short cold spells.
What zones can dragon fruit grow in?
Dragon fruit grows well in both tropical and subtropical climates, or in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11 respectively. It is possible to grow fresh dragon fruit in zone 9 although the fruit may need protection when the temperature drops to freezing level.
These antioxidant fruits are some of nature’s most rewarding fruits, both in terms of taste and health benefits, so make sure you include them in your healthy and nutritious diet. They will play an active role in the fight against the body’s natural aging process, they will help with inflammation in the body, while their essential minerals and vitamins will boost your immune system and improve your brain power. They’re easy to consume, absolutely attractive to the eye and incredibly delicious – truly some of nature’s amazing antioxidant superfruits!
Additional Dragon Fruit Resources on Antioxidant Fruits.com: