Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Red Dragon Fruit (Pitaya)

The Pitaya, also known as pitahaya, dragon fruit or strawberry pear is the fruit of several cactus species, especially of the genus Hylocereus. Native to Mexico, central and South America, these vine-like epiphytic cacti are also widely cultivated in Malaysia, Vietnam and Southeast coast of China.

Hylocereus blooms only at night; they have large white fragrant flowers of the typical cactusflower shape, that are often called Moonflower or Queen of the Night. Sweet pitayas have a creamy pulp and a delicate aroma.

The red-flesh variety dragon fruit (Pitaya) which has better sweet taste and high yield. The flesh, which is eaten raw, is mindly sweet and low in calories. The flavor is sometimes likened to kiwifruit. The fruit can be converted into juice or wine; the flowers can be eaten or steeped as tea. Sesame seed-sized seeds are embedded throughout the flesh.

How to grow

Sow the seeds in a gritty potting mix, water and cover the container or wrap in a polythene bag. A couple of weeks later the seedlings start to appear. This is a reminder that all cacti are true dicotyledons as the seedlings come up with two seed leaves, a bit like germinating beans. At this stage there is no evidence that they will develop into cacti, but these are the first and last leaves that will be produced.

As the seedlings develop, an angular spiny stem grows in the central growing point between the two leaves. The stem thickens and elongates and after several months the cotyledons shrivel and are shed. The seedlings can be potted on into individual pots and in principle could be grown on to a large plant and flowered to produce more fruit.

Pitaya plant cannot stand by itself. It is a climber and needs to be supported for it to grow upwards. Because the plant can live for a few decades, the support structure provided must be very lasting. In some countries like Taiwan and Peninsular Malaysia, concrete cement is used as a support for the plant.

The pitaya has adapted to live in dry tropical climates with a moderate amount of rain. The dragon fruit sets on the cactus-like trees 30-50 days after flowering and can sometimes have 5-6 cycles of harvests per year. It is disease-resistance plant and easy to grow. Grower will feed the plant with organic fertilizer in monthly interval.

Growing Session
All year around with tropical, sub tropical or dry climates where there’s about 20-25 inches rain per year

Maturity Period
It takes about 18 months to bear first fruits from seed.

Nutrition value
Rich in antioxidants (phytoalbumins) and has an exceptionally high content of soluble fiber. It is considered a good source of Vitamin C, dietary fiber, calcium and potassium. In Taiwan, dragon fruit is use a food substitute for rice and source of dietary fiber for diabetic patients.

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