Hylocereus undatus | ‘Dragon Fruit’, ‘Pitahaya’ | 25 seeds
Hylocereus undatus (popularly called ‘Dragon Fruit’ or ‘Pitahaya’) is a sprawling, vine-like cactus which often climbs along rocks and trees, via the formation of aerial roots. Little is known regarding this incredibly popular species origins, primarily due to its long and widespread history of cultivation by humans. A close relative of the plants of the genus Selenicereus, within its own genus undatus is most closely related to Hylocereus escuintlensis and Hylocereus ocamponis.
This is another species which is so popular the alternative names threaten to spill into several paragraphs! Hylocereus undatus is synonymous with Cereus guatemalensis, Cereus triangularis aphyllus, Cereus triangularis major, Cereus tricostatus, Cereus trigonus var. guatemalensis, Cereus undatus, Cereus undulatus, Hylocereus guatemalensis, Hylocereus tricostatus and Hylocereus undulatus. Further demonstrating its long history of cultivation by humans, it’s also informally known by many names, including ‘Belle of the Night’, ‘Buah Naga’, ‘Cardo-Ananaz’, ‘Cato-Barse’, ‘Chacam’, ‘Chak-Wob’, ‘Cierge-Lézard’, ‘Cinderella Plant’, ‘Distelbirne’, ‘Drachenfrüchte’, ‘Dragon Fal’, ‘Dragon Fruit’, ‘Dragon Pearl Fruit’, ‘Echte Stachelbirne’, ‘Fire Dragon Fruit’, ‘Flor de Cáliz’, ‘Fruit du Dragon’, ‘Fruto tu Draku’, ‘Frutto del Drago’, ‘Green Dragon’, ‘Hong Long Guo’, ‘Honolulu Queen’, ‘Huǒlóngguǒ’, ‘Jesus in the Cradle’, ‘Junco’, ‘Junco Tapatío’, ‘Kaeo Mangkon’, ‘Kertuotis’, ‘Königin der Nacht’, ‘Liang Tian Che’, ‘Liang Tian Chi’, ‘Lila Pitta’, ‘Lohikäärmehedelmä’, ‘Long Zhu Guo’, ‘Maasik-Metskaktus’, ‘Moonflower’, ‘Moonlight Cactus’, ‘Night Blooming Cereus’, ‘Panini-O-Ka-Puna-Hou’, ‘Papipi Pua’, ‘Pitahaya’, ‘Pitahaya Blanca’, ‘Pitahaya de Cardo’, ‘Pitahaya Dulce’, ‘Pitahaya Orejona’, ‘Pitahaya Roja’, ‘Pitahaya Rouge’, ‘Pitaja’, ‘Pitaia Vermelha’, ‘Pitaija’, ‘Pitajava’, ‘Pitaya’, ‘Pitaya Vermelha de Polpa Branca’, ‘Pitaya Vermella’, ‘Poire de Chardon’, ‘Punahou Cactus’, ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘Rainha da Noite’, ‘Red Pitahaya’, ‘Reina de la Noche’, ‘Röd Pitahaya’, ‘Rotepitahaya’, ‘Skogskaktus’, ‘Strawberry Pear’, ‘Tasajo’, ‘Thanh Long’, ‘Waldkaktus’, ‘White-Fleshed Pitahaya’, ‘Yong-Gwa’, ‘Zacamb’ and ‘Zunlongguo’!
Rather variable in appearance, this ‘Pitahaya’ is a fast-growing and fleshy jointed cactus which can reach a mature height of more than ten metres – especially when using trees or other terrain for support! Individual stem joints are deep green in colour, triangular in cross-section and undulate along their margins (hence the Latin name), growing to approximately one and a quarter metres in length and up to roughly fifteen centimetres across. Many sprawling branches form, gradually becoming more fibrous with age and usually featuring several grey-brown-black spines, up to approximately one centimetre long.
Sweetly-fragranced, green-yellow-white-pink, bell-shaped flowers reach a maximum of roughly thirty-five centimetres in length by thirty centimetres across, blooming only at night (often for one night only) between late spring and early summer. These attractive blooms are pollinated by bats and birds, although commercial production generally achieves this by hand. Tasty, red-green fruits (‘Dragon Fruit’) are roughly ovoid in shape and contain fleshy white pulp and nutritious, black seeds. These fruits are very pretty in appearance, growing to around twelve centimetres long by nine centimetres in diameter.
Although nobody’s certain where the species originates from, Hylocereus undatus usually occurs in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11. It’s such a prolific grower that it’s considered an invasive species in some parts of the world (notably in parts of Africa) and can be found in forest, rainforest, roadside, rocky, scrub, wasteland and wetland (coastal and freshwater) habitats. The species is well-adapted to a wide range of conditions, growing anywhere from two to two thousand seven hundred and fifty metres above sea level and handling annual rainfall of between three hundred and forty and three and a half thousand millimetres.
Besides its long use as a colourful and eye-catching ornamental plant, Hylocereus undatus is primarily used by humans as a source of healthy and tasty food and is generally considered to be second only to Opuntia ficus-indica (the ‘Prickly Pear’) in its importance as a source for commercial fruit production. Not only is the flesh of the plant’s nutritious, vitamin-rich fruit eaten raw (often chilled for improved flavour), but it’s also popular as a flavouring agent for a range of beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), candies, ice creams, pastries, preserves, syrups and yoghurts. Furthermore, unopened undatus flower buds are eaten as vegetables, while both dried and fresh blooms can be used variously as vegetables and in soups and teas.
Medicinally, the plant has historically been used as a diuretic and to treat diabetes and wounds and it may also help to prevent cardiovascular conditions. Undatus is also a source for various cosmetic and food dyes and is also commonly used a grafting rootstock for various other (slower-growing) cacti, such as Lophophora williamsii (‘Peyote’), due to its prolific growth rate and tolerance to relatively humid conditions. Ecologically, it’s a valuable source of nectar for several bat and bee species.
Easy to grow from seed (or cuttings, should you have access to an existing specimen), undatus prefers well-drained, loamy, sandy or stony soil (mildly acidic to neutral). Germination from seed occurs two to three weeks subsequent to sowing, presuming a temperature range of 18-21°C. Situate plants in full sun to partial shade (damage becomes apparent at temperatures of above 40°C and below 0°C), roughly one metre apart from each other. Optimum growth is usually achieved at around 18-25°C. Water as the top layer of soil becomes dry, fertilising every few weeks during the summer to aid the production of fruits and flowers.
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