Dragonfruit have to have the most incredibly sensational color of any fruit. Their blooms are wild, showy and no better than they ought to be, and the fruit has colors so loud they bedazzle the eyes. Also known as pitaya or pitahaya, dragonfruit grow on either columnar or vining cactus plants. Their history is recorded with the Aztecs, and now they are grown in Vietnam and parts of Malaysia. Due to their soft texture, the fruit isn’t conducive to shipping and handling, so finding them at Asian marketplaces or Farmers’ Markets would be your best bet. However, the popularity of this plant is catching on and since they take up little room, can be grown at home.
I have two vining dragonfruit, which I’ve propped up on the trunks of two Washingtonia palm trees for support. They receive sun there, but some protection from the intense late afternoon sun, and it is a frost-free area. One morning in late summer I went out among the small cosmos and other English-style flowers of that yard, and suddenly noticed this enormous tropical flower looking so out of place. It was gorgeous, fragrant, and sultry next to the prim annuals. The flower of the dragonfruit has a nocturnal bloom, relying on bats and moths for pollination; apparently even those that are self-fertile, as this one evidently is, needs some interaction with bats and moths to set fruit. To insure pollination, growers will make an evening event of hand-pollinating, paint brushes and flashlights in hand. The flower slowly faded during the day and was limp in late afternoon; I’m glad I was lucky enough to see it in the morning at its most sensual state.
I didn’t think that the flower would set fruit, but the plant surprised me again when I glanced over last week and saw a red dragonfruit. This particular dragonfruit has red skin and crimson flesh. Some have red skin and white flesh, or yellow skin and white flesh. The most dramatic I’ve seen was a bright green skinned fruit with crimson flesh! All have small black seeds inside.
Dragonfruit is famed where it grows for its health benefits which are extensive, as well as the fiber and vitamins it contains. Dried dragonfruit is supposed to be more potent than fresh in some ways, and is a better eating alternative for those who don’t care for the texture of the fresh fruit. A good website honoring the nutrition aspect of dragonfruit is http://dragon-fruit.biz/ .
Propagation can be done by seed, which is slow, or by one-foot-long cuttings from fruit-bearing plants. Allow the cuttings to harden off before planting, just as you would any cactus or succulent. Plants will need support, especially the vining kind. They are tropical plants, so enjoy warm weather, regular watering without standing in water, and some humidity.
For sheer spectacular showiness, you can’t beat the neon colors of dragonfruit. Eat out-of-hand, in fruit salads, blend in smoothies or for sherbets, or dry to slightly chewy bits that are packed with nutrition. You will certainly impress your neighbors; in fact, invite them over for an evening pollination party! That ought to get the homeowner’s association all worked up!