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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dragon fruit dressed for Christmas

By Duane Choy

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The dragon fruit is produced by a climbing cactus with night-blooming flowers and can be found in Island stores.

Photo courtesy of Duane Choy

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During the yuletide holidays, the dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus), reminds me of a bizarre Christmas ornament.

This fluorescent, hot pink, blowfish-shaped fruit of a crawling cacti resembles something cultivated from "Alice in Wonderland."

The original home of dragon fruit is in Central America. It is known as pitaya roja in northern South America and Central America, and pitahaya in Mexico. The French introduced it (from either Nicaragua and Colombia, or Guyana) into Vietnam, where, known as thanh long, dragon fruit emerged into a major commercial agricultural product.

There are three primary dragon fruit types, all with leathery, leaf-scaled skin. Pictured in this article is a red-skinned fruit with crushed-ice-white flesh. There is also red-skinned fruit with wine-red flesh and yellow-skinned fruit with white flesh. Tiny black edible seeds pepper the pulp. The fruit is either oval, elliptical or pear shaped.

The majestic and exquisite night-blooming blossoms of this plant provide the common names "moonflower" and "lady of the night." The regal flowers each last one night.

Propagation can be from seeds or stem cuttings. Clean seeds completely from dragon fruit pulp that is overripe, but unblemished. Seeds may be stored dried. Use compost or potting mix for planting. The soil should be well nourished with organic components, and after 11 to 14 days, germination should follow shallow sowing. As growth proceeds, this climbing cacti will search for a support to ascend, sometimes with aerial roots, from its branches and basal roots. Provide a wooden or concrete post, trellis, or metal rods.

As with other cacti, if a healthy segment of the plant is severed, it has the ability to take root and become another plant. Flowering initiates when the plant weighs about 10 pounds. The night blooms wither with the next day's sunlight. Fruit sets approximately 30 to 50 days after blossoming, and plants can have five to six fruiting cycles, or harvests, during the year.

The dragon fruit plant has adapted to live in dry, tropical environments with moderate rainfall. Overwatering is the nemesis of home cultivation, causing flowers to drop and fruit to rot. The book "Beginner's Guide to Grow Dragon Fruit" in the home garden, by William Chow (2004), is a terrific reference source.

The first time I ate dragon fruit, I was a bit disheartened, because I expected an explosion of 'ono. It's got great texture (like kiwi), but the taste is a little bland, although the visual spectacle of dragon fruit sliced in half has the appearance of produce from Mars. The fruit contains vitamin C, fiber and minerals, especially phosphorus and calcium. Dragon fruit also has significant quantities of phytoalbumin antioxidants. Seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Dragon fruit is made into juice, syrup, food colorant and wine. Unopened flower buds are cooked as a vegetable.

Medicinally, dragon fruit has been culturally utilized to help eyesight, control hypertension, and to treat endocrine and stomach ailments. Individuals with noninsulin-dependent hyperglycemic conditions (a form of diabetes), have used dragon fruit to manage blood glucose.

Cloaked in Christmas red and green, dragon fruit is a wondrous example of Mother Nature's stunning and multifaceted bounty.