Article updated on 12th Apr 2015  Dragon fruit or called by its proper name Pitaya is one of the lessor known fruiting plants in the Western world (perhaps the whole world).

The name “dragon fruit” has its origins in Asia and probably was formed as a way to describe the bright coloured fruit with a chunky scaled skin resembling large...Well, dragon scales, I guess. Whilst this plant is pretty well known in Asia and grown extensively throughout the region, dragon fruit actually originated from Mexico and South America.

Dragon fruit flowers at sunrise

Dragon fruit flowers at sunrise (above image)

This medium to large climbing plant is part of the cactus family and like so many other cactus varieties the dragon fruit is an extremely interesting visual spectacle and when grown in the backyard or in a pot on a balcony the plant is always a lure for questions.

Red fleshed dragon fruit

The plant grows like a climbing vine but instead of tendrils it shoots from the tip and grows another segment ranging from 1-3 feet long and about 4 inches wide.

In Asia, the fruit is popular and pitaya farms are not an unusual sight. The dragon fruit is growing in popularity throughout the Western world with commercial farms starting to appear among the more traditional fruit crops but generally the fruit isn't well known, yet. I do see the rare case of dragon fruit in my local supermarket and it's promoted as a real exotic treat (with a price tag to match).

Personally, I prefer to grow my own at home.

Varieties of dragon fruit

The most common varieties of this spectacular fruiting cactus are the red and yellow fruiting ones. The reRed and yellow dragon fruitd fruiting variety can be split into two main plants distinguished by the flesh colour (edible part) of the fruit – a white flesh, and the other a dark red flesh with the white fleshed red dragon fruit the most common.

The yellow skinned (with a white flesh) dragon fruit are not as commonly grown as the red variety mainly because of its nasty thorny protection, which needs to be removed before handling (more about that later). Also, the yellow variety is significantly smaller than the red in size. However, out of the two colours the yellow has a better taste (sweeter) than the red variety but that's my personal opinion.

What does the fruit taste like?

With such a glamorous exterior, you would expect the dragon fruit to deliver more than it does – taste wise. Having said that, one shouldn’t try and compare this fruit to other tropical stand-outs just because of how vibrant it looks. The main point is the fruit does not taste bad it just isn't a taste bud celebration with every mouthful, but it does taste good.

Dragon fruit pulp close up

Dragon fruit pulp close-up (image above)

Some would say the fruit tastes a little bland but I think the same about some varieties of watermelon and that doesn't stop me from eating them. The taste of the dragon fruit is like a melon with the texture and tiny seeds similar to a kiwi fruit. And just like a kiwi fruit, you hardly notice the seeds when eating the dragon fruit pulp. In fact, crunching a few seeds in a bite releases a slight tang (or acidity) which is quite pleasant.

dragon fruit flesh scooped out

The fruit is best eaten a little chilled (whole in the fridge), then cut in half and the pulp scooped out with a spoon. Eaten this way, I find the fruit quite refreshing and very enjoyable – I could eat lots of them. Alternatively, dragon fruit are good mashed in cocktails or cut into chunks and added to fruit salads, which by doing so can only enhance the overall fruit salad taste and definitely will not detract from it.

Out of the common red and yellow varieties of dragon fruit, the sweetest tasting is the yellow. However, the drawback for growing the yellow variety (unlike the red) is the fact that the fruit develops spines (thorns) up to and over a centimetre long, which need to be carefully removed before handling (read more about removing the spikes in harvesting below).

Why grow dragon fruit?

I say, “why not” grow dragon fruit? Here are some reasons why more people should grow this weird looking fruit producing cactus:

  • Healthy – Despite some thinking the fruit tastes bland, it is actually very good for us to eat nutritionally. Dragon fruits contain good levels of fibre, minerals, vitamins (vitamin C), and cancer fighting antioxidants.

  • Ornamental value – Many people collect cactus just for fun and for looking at because they are a spectacular plant genus visually. The flower this plant produces is incredible!

  • Different – In contrast to the rest of the garden the dragon fruit plant can be made into a great feature with its eye-catching fleshy stems. On the table, or at a dinner party the fruit do look fabulous and are a real talking point with guests.

  • Easy – The plant itself is very easy to grow and requires little care or water.

  • Retail - The large red dragon fruit sell for a ridiculous $5 a pop in the supermarket (in Australia) – enough said...

How to grow dragon fruit?

The massive flower bud from the dragon fruit

The massive flower bud of the dragon fruit (image above)

Where

Dragon fruit can be grown almost anywhere in the world. In very cold climates it needs to be protected or it may struggle as it grows best in a warm climate with mild winters. It can be rather drought proof and survive harsh dry conditions; however, the plant does seem to like regular water (in good draining soil) and this helps it produce better fruit in my experience. Yes, pitaya plants can suffer neglect well but will grow much better in fertile, free draining soil with lots of water.

When (planting, fruiting, harvest)

Planting - Time of year for planting isn't really a consideration. The plant is long lived and being a cactus has natural reserves to make it pretty easy as a self-establisher for getting through planting at any time.

Fruiting and flowering – Fruiting can be sporadic throughout the year with the main flowering in summer and then fruit developing into autumn and winter. A dragon fruit plant in flower is an amazing site to behold with petal span often over 8 inches across! Firstly, the shear size of the flower makes it stand out from 50 yards away and the crisp white outer petals with the rich yellow stamens are beautiful. For the best chance to see these flowers in full glory a dawn rising is required as by mid-morning the flowers are usually closed. The flowers are mostly nocturnal (opening at night only) to be pollinated by the creatures of darkness (moths and bats). Nevertheless, I have seen the flowers open through the day and visited by other insects especially ants.

Dragon fruit flower close up

The dragon fruit flower in all its glory (image above)

Plant maturity inducing flowering seems to work off growth rather then age of the plant. I have found that the dragon fruit plant starts to flower and produce fruit best after it has reached a high-point in growth on whatever structure it is climbing. That is, the single stem reaches up and loops down under its own weight triggering small fractures in the stem wall, which in turn stimulates branching.

I have since learnt decapitation once the vine has grown to an acceptable height is another way to stimulate extra branches and fruit development.

Therefore, growing the plant on posts no higher than 2 metres will not only make harvesting easier but it will produce fruit faster also because it won't need to climb as high before toppling over and spreading.

The other extreme, where the plant is left unchecked to grow up a tall structure or even a tree trunk, is worse because the dragon fruit will just keep climbing up and up making fruit harvesting difficult.

It is on the new branches sprawling over the top of the support structure where most of the new flowers are produced, although, flowers can pop-up anywhere on the plant.

Of course, after the flowers come the fruit and it can be tricky to guess exactly how long the fruit will take to reach maturity because it depends mainly on the size. Some fruit keep growing and get very large (bigger than a man’s fist) and others stop growing and start ripening early. So, from flowering to ripe fruit can take from 6 weeks to several months.

Pollination - You can get self-fertile plants and other plants which require cross pollination from other dragon fruit flowers. Unless you are an enthusiast, try to ensure the dragon fruit plant you buy is self-fertile! However, if you are not sure whether your plant is self-fertile or not you can test it when your first flower comes along by hand pollinating; likewise, if your plants are having trouble setting fruit hand pollination will have to be done. Watch the video below by Project Pitaya on how to hand pollinate dragon fruit flowers if you want to know more.

Green dragon fruit on stemHarvesting – Pitaya (dragon fruit) do not ripen off the plant after harvest. Therefore, before picking the fruit ensure it is fully ripe by visually checking the colour has completely changed from green to red or yellow. Also, the skin should be slightly soft (like a silicon filled ball) when lightly squeezed or poked.

To remove the fruit simply rotate it with a light pull and it should come away rather easily – if it doesn't come off easily it probably isn't fully ripe.

Before picking the yellow fruit, its thorns need to be removed and this can be done by using any implement; for example, a pliers, brush, glove. If the fruit is ripe, the thorns should already be showing signs of shedding anyway and hopefully they will easily rub off without too much problem but care still needs to be taken naturally as the thorns are needle sharp. See my video on how to remove thorns from yellow dragon fruit.

After harvest preservation isn't too bad; however, they are best eaten within a few days.

How to best grow dragon fruit - Because dragon fruit are a climbing plant they are best grown on a structure. Most people grow the plants on a post and secure the stem to the post as it grows with twine or some sort of material.

Dragon fruit farm

A dragon fruit farm (image above)

I have seen images of dragon fruit plants on posts no higher than a standard fence (about 1.5m and that might be ok if you plan to have several plants; however, if just one or two plants are required then I'd go a little higher so there is more space for hanging growth (thus more fruit).

Plants can be started readily from seed but most people purchase a potted plant which are usually a foot or two high. Cuttings are also a very successful way to propagate dragon fruit and it's quite common tPotted dragon fruit from cuttingo find a segment broken from the plant. More often then not, the segment will grow into a new plant if potted up or even re-planted in the soil as is. If you know someone with dragon fruit plants then getting some freebies should be easy enough.

Soil – One thing that will kill a cactus is over watering or wet feet so ensure the soil is free draining. I live in a sub-tropical climate and because of the high rainfall (and my clay soil) I have ensured my plants are growing on a mound or large pot with the bottom cut out. Being a cactus, it can survive some neglect from lack of water and even nutrients but the plant will quickly rot in heavy soil.

Fertiliser – I feed my dragon fruit plants a mix of chicken and quail manure once or twice a year with an occasional dress of compost and a good mulching (keep the much away from the trunk/stem). A complete commercial fertiliser purchased from a garden centre will do also.

Honestly, this plant will grow well under horrid conditions and neglect but for the best fruit possible some care will help.

Pests

Nothing much attacks this plant or the fruit except for when the fruit ripens and then animals or birds may have a go at it buFungal damage on dragon fruit stemt this personally hasn't happened to me. I wouldn't imagine climbing or sitting on a cactus to be an easy or pleasant thing for an animal to do, and I'd like to see my pesky possums try to eat a prickly yellow dragon fruit.

Fungal problems can sometimes arise through summer when the humidity is high with rust spots appearing and then opening up to rot; however, the plants seem to get over it without any intervention. If the plant looks like it is in big trouble from a fungal attack then sparingly using a fungicide (as directed) should solve the issue. Nevertheless, the dragon fruit plant heals itself well after attacks from fungus or injury through wind etc.

Having said that, recently (Feb 2014) I have had my first serious fungal attack on a dragon fruit vine (red variety) which caused severe dieback. The rust spots started random on certain limbs and then rapidly spread. For now, the treatment I've used is a fungal spray and removal of affected branches - hopefully, this will be good enough! This has only happend on the one plant and it happens to be dual planted with a yellow variety which is NOT affected (strange). I've started a thread about this on our fourm SSC here so I can collect more information about the problem and detail progress in solvign or preventing it. 

Also, I have read a dose of Epsom salts (as directed on packet manuf instructions) watered into the base of the plant may help it recover from sunburn.

Handy links

You can buy dragon fruit plants online plus many other dragon fruit products to try before you grow on Amazon (USA) or eBay (USA)

In Australia, there are plenty of cuttings and seed etc to buy stright from eBay (Australia).

Conclusion

If you are already a fan of cactus plants then getting a pitaya/dragon fruit plant is an easy decision; even just for the ornamental value.

If you're interested in food gardening then this easy to care for Mexican born, Asian raised, rebel of aHolding yellow dragon fruit plant will be the heavy metal rocker in your quaint garden especially at flowering time. You need to get a dragon fruit plant just so you can get up at dawn, take a picture of these massive flowers, and brag to your friends.

And, if you're not really a cactus fan nor an avid food gardener then why not start your new passion with an exotic like the pitaya aka dragon fruit – this plant will not fail you.

Feel free to use the comment section below and have your say (no email is required) but what would really be even better is if you visited our dragon fruit thread on our forum simply join up (free) and chat with us.

Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.

Look, and see the Earth through her eyes

Mark Valencia – Editor SSM

 


lk tan   26.03.2015 23:14
Yes No why does my plant flower easily but doesn't yield any fruit? It has flowered a total of four times each time yielding about 4 or 5 flowers but all dropping off even though I do hand pollination
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:15
Yes No Hi, the Dragon fruit plant flowering but not forming fruit is not uncommon. Not all of my flowers on pitayas end up developing fruit either. If your hand pollination is working but the fruit is still not forming due to another reason then it may be because the plant is still too young or not strong enough so it naturally prevents the fruit development. Or, possibly the plant needs more nutrition so try giving it a feed of a complete fertiliser with trace elements and see if that helps. Also, make sure the soil is very well draining (almost dryish) as dragon fruit hate moist or wet feet. I don't know how old or what climate your plant is but give it some time and it might come good. Good luck!
 
kiba   02.07.2015 02:00
Yes No Hi hun. I currently have a 9 month old Dragon fruit. The past month or so it started turning yellow and the growth has stoped. Do you know what is causing this and how i can fix the issue?
 
Emily Japitana   26.03.2015 23:16
Yes No Thank you. Very informative article.... I'll be starting my dragon fruit farm very soon, though in small area only.
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:16
Yes No Hi Emily, thanks for the feedback and I hope your dragon fruit plants do well.
 
Erika   26.03.2015 23:16
Yes No Hi! I just came across a Dragon Fruit plant today at Home Depot so I am very new to them. They seem to be a great plant to try - something a little unusual. That said - I'm going to try growing this in a pot on our back patio area near the pool. We live in zone 9b so I think the climate is perfect. The plant I got is prob 1-2 ft big. It has a few rooted shoots too. I want to repot it but how big of a pot should I go up to? How substantial of a trellis will I need to get me to summer next year? I only have a Y shaped wooden one. Can it be in full sun? When will it start to bloom? Does it have to be a certain size first? Is it very sensitive to cold? Thank you so much for the information!!!
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:17
Yes No Hi Erika, thanks for your comment, I'll do my best to answer your questions: how big of a pot should I go up to? I recommend a pot at least 40cm wide (so fairly large). How substantial of a trellis will I need to get me to summer next year? They grow well on a strong post and can become very heavy so a strong trellis is required a Y shaped wooden one probably won't do permantly. Can it be in full sun? Full sun is perfect. When will it start to bloom? When it reaches trellis height and drapes over (about 18 months)Does it have to be a certain size first? Normally, about 6 foot high. Is it very sensitive to cold? Tolorates cool to mild winters but won't to well in extreme cold. Forum for more questions www.selfsufficientculture.com
 
Laurie   26.03.2015 23:17
Yes No Thanks for the info. My young dragon fruit plants are constantly being eaten by tree lizards. Do you know of any way to stop them?
 
David T   26.03.2015 23:18
Yes No Hi Laurie, tree lizards! I've never come across such creatures they sound awful :) I don't see anything eating my dragon fruit plants due to the spikes I guess, but if you have lizards which eat yours and thorns aren't a deterrent then I'm at a loss on how to protect the plants apart from exclusion like a dome net etc until the plants are big enough - see our netting article (crop protection). Good luck mate.
 
Diana Lennon   26.03.2015 23:18
Yes No Hi David, thanks for commenting on the article. I haven't tried DF frozen but it sounds great and I'm going to give it a go. Obviously, they are a warm region plant but I do know of people growing them in pots in areas which snow through winter! I would say with a little care, and micro-climate consideration (like a sunny wall)you should have no problem growing them in any of those locations you mentioned - even Sydney itself. Definitely try it!
 
Trish   26.03.2015 23:18
Yes No Hello Di, thanks for your kind words. Yes, Dragon Fruit will continue to climb and "get away" if we don't control them! Try keeping the stand/support or post no more than 6 feet high with some mesh or circular ring at the top so once the plant reaches the top it then topples over triggering branching. Hopefully, you should get more flowering and thus more fruit also with this method. I love Cairns BTW - did quite a bit of work up there in the mid-90's.
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:19
Yes No Hi Trish, the odd drop below zero shouldn't hurt the Dragon fruit plant too much as long as it isn't prolonged. Self-pollination is a good question and I don't know a lot about it to be honest, but I believe you can get both self-pollinating varieties and ones that need another to cross pollinate. I would ensure the plant you get is self-pollinating. My DF flowers usually all set fruit and I suspect are pollinated through visiting moths, bats. I have noticed ants like the flowers too not sure if they help pollinate though. If pollination becomes a problem then hand pollination may be the way to go. Cheers :)
 
Shantha Samarasinghe   26.03.2015 23:19
Yes No Hi Thank you very much for posting a very interesting and useful information. I am going to plant some dragon fruit in my backyard very soon. I will contact you whenever I need good advice and help. Thanks Again Shantha
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:19
Yes No Hi Shantha, thanks for the feedback and feel free to email me anytime or post a question in our forum about growing dragon fruit. Hope it goes well! Cheers :)
 
Pattie   26.03.2015 23:20
Yes No We have dragon fruit that have given only 3fruit about 3years ago. We have hand pollinated every way you can think of but still no luck, we live in Cardwell QLD.They are mature plants growing over posts , done everything we can think of please help.
 
Hannah   26.03.2015 23:20
Yes No I am growing dragon fruit for a class project and this really helped!
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:20
Yes No I'm really glad this article has helped your project Hannah. Cheers, Mark
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:21
Yes No Hi Pattie, that's a difficult question to answer because dragon fruit not setting can be due to many reasons. Firstly, are you sure you have a self-polinating variety? If you do have the self-pollinating plant then do you have lots of wild life around and insects because dragon fruit flowers are typically pollinated by bats and moths at night and a good environment of animals helps. Post in our forum www.selfsufficientculture.com and we'll talk more about it!
 
Melina   26.03.2015 23:21
Yes No Thanks so much for your article, my dragon fruit just had its first flowering after I've waited for maybe 8 years. It was so beautiful and yes, I did put a picture of it on face book as it was so amazing. I'm glad I know now about how to grow them and let them hang back down, mine is on an archway, probable why it took so long to flower. Fertiliser hey, good idea Warm Regards Melina
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:21
Yes No Thank you Melina! Dragon fruit vine on an archway now that's a great idea - it would look fabulous no doubt. Glad to hear it's flowering for you. Cheers, Mark
 
Eliza   26.03.2015 23:22
Yes No Hey there! Great article! I just ate my first dragon fruit and guess what? I want a plant! I have just collected a few seeds, and I placed them in a pot, with a moist paper towel underneath and on top of them. Hope they will germinate :D Thanks Mark for all the infos. I would love to have one fruit grown by my own hand one day. I'll keep you posted with the outcomes! PS. Greetings from Germany ;) Here the fruit costs 3.99 EURO, today I got one in a sale action for 1.99 Euro ;)
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:22
Yes No Hi Eliza, great to hear from you all the way from wonderful Germany! Yes, dragon fruit are expensive to buy that's for sure. Good luck with growing yours - it's a magic plant. Mine are starting to flower at the moment (coming into autumn here in Oz) I'm expecting a good crop this year. Thanks for your feedback and please do keep me posted on your progress - perhaps even join our forum?
 
geoff   26.03.2015 23:22
Yes No Hi thanks for your article on DF, last year i had 30 DF from my 4 vines all hand pollinated, but this year i had about 50 flowers but most turned yellow and fell off, what would you recommend, Kind Regards Geoff
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:23
Yes No Hi Geoff, thanks for your question. Firstly 30 DF last season is great going - well done! Did you do the same this year and hand pollinate? The reason I ask is because it sounds like the flowers weren't fertilised and if you didn't hand pollinate this time then that's an easy fix by hand pollinating next season. However, if you did hand pollinate the same way but got poor results then it might be several other reasons like: just a bad year or rest year for the plant, poor climatic conditions at fruit set - too dry or too wet, or not enough energy for fruit development. Try giving the plants a good feed of a balanced fertiliser and some well rotted manure and see how they go next season.
 
Graham   26.03.2015 23:23
Yes No Hi Geoff, I live in the Sunshine State in Queensland Australia and just found out about Dragon Fruit. I was given some cuttings which prompted me to research the fruit. I had to wait a couple of weeks to taste some and loved it. I have three large cuttings and one is taking off so I am going to plant it in the garden. As I have clay soil I will plant it in a mound in packaged balanced soil mix with some chicken manure thrown in. I will connect them to the irrigation system I have in the orchard so hopefully they will grow and produce lovely fruit. What a wonderful hobby for anyone! Thanks for the article very informative.
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:23
Yes No Thanks Graham! DF grow well on a mound and I too have clay soil so keeping the plants out of the bog is a must but easier to do than other plants because the DF plant can withstand dry spells extremely well and mounded soil can dry out fast but that's no problem for a cactus :) Hope your cuttings strike well!
 
Ashley   26.03.2015 23:24
Yes No I bought a couple of cuttings about around november of last year and they have rooted and even set off one side shoot each (but i was told to clip those off until the main stalk is as big as i want it) anyway, they are still the same size as they were when i got them- 6 inches so my question is this: How can i get the main stalk to grow taller and strong? I would like it to be much taller before having loads of extra arms everywhere lol thanks in advance!
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:25
Yes No Hi Ashley, that's a good question and here's my observations: firstly, DF vines/plants usually do bud from the tips of the main steam and grow up but it's not always the case. Sometimes, a strong growing off-shoot turns into a main runner instead and vigorously grows and climbs up. I personally would leave them grow willy-nilly for 12 months then choose and train the best stem to about 6 feet whilst removing any shoots which are too low. Happy to discuss this more in depth on our forum http://www.selfsufficientculture.com/showthread.php?20-Dragon-fruit-(pitaya)
 
Cindy Romero   26.03.2015 23:25
Yes No I have 2 dragon fruit plants, one is the dark red fleshed and the other is the white fleshed. I went out this morning and found what looks like the beginnings of flowering on my white fleshed plant but I have only had these plants for a couple years. I live in Hawaii, the island of Maui, on the very dry side of the island. Will I have to self pollinate these flowers? I am not sure what kind of birds that fly@night except the sea birds as well as other night creatures we have. I got these pants because I love the fruit, they are $15 plus @the store here.
 
Allan Wines   26.03.2015 23:25
Yes No Hi, I like to try growing this fruit but have a question can you grow Dragon fruit in S.W. Qld ?
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:26
Yes No Hi Cindy, I've been to Hawaii for a holiday you're so lucky you live there what a great place! Hand pollination is an interesting question - personally, I never hand pollinate and our plants flowers tend to develop into fruit most of the time (80%). The flowers are likely to be pollinated by small bats and night insects like moths (I'm sure you'd have them on your island). However, I've seen the flowers still open at dawn many times getting visited by bees and ants etc. I'm not an expert on pollination by hand but if you are worried then go ahead and hand pollinate - there are some good examples on YouTube search for " Hand pollinating Dragon Fruit". Thanks for commenting!
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:26
Yes No Hi Allan, yes you can grow dragon fruit in SE QLD this is where I live! In fact, dragon fruit grow really well here. Go get some plants and never look back :) If you'd like more info join our forum "Self Sufficient Culture" and we can talk more and post some images etc - DF is an easy plant to grow.
 
Caylene   26.03.2015 23:26
Yes No I live in Canada. We have brutal winters(anywher e from 0 degrees celsius to -35 degrees celsius) and fairly warm summers(anywher e from +5 degrees celsius in spring to high 20-35 degrees celsius... sometimes higher but not often) but Im wondering could I grow this plant in a green house or in my house in a pot? Can i plant the fruit sold from the grocery store or do i have to try and find the plant?(no luck so far)
 
Mark   26.03.2015 23:27
Yes No Hi Caylene, I believe it is possible to grow DF by seed but I haven't tried it as it grows so easily from cuttings. Leave the fruit mature fully and then spread the seed pulp on some kitchen paper to dry. Then start it like you would any other seedling - let us know how you go please! In regards to pot growing I've found DF grow exceptionally well in pots (they almost prefer it) because the plant likes to dry out occasionally and pots by nature are usually quick to dry out and free draining. I would say YES in a heated greenhouse with a fair amount of sunlight your DF should grow well - no problem. Cheers, Mark
 
Zach   26.03.2015 23:27
Yes No Hi mate, really well written, clear and conscice, thanks heaps budy!
 
 
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