Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit that comes from a type of cactus of the genus Hylocereus, also known as the Honolulu queen, whose flowers only open at night. The scientific name of dargon fruit is Selenicereus undatus and it belongs to the Cactaceae family. The plant is native to southern Mexico and Central America.
Indigenous to South America and warm, humid climates, and cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions, dragon fruit is known by many names, including cactus fruit, strawberry pear, Belle of the night, and moonlight cactus.
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Between 5.5 to 6.5
Dragon Fruit Nutrition
Dragon fruit contains small amounts of several nutrients. It’s also a decent source of iron, magnesium, and fiber.
Here are the nutrition facts for a serving of 3.5 ounces, or 100 grams:
Protein: 1.2 grams
Fat: 0 grams
Carbs: 13 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Vitamin C: 3% of the RD
Iron: 4% of the RDI
Magnesium: 10% of the RDI
Given the high amount of fiber and magnesium, as well as the extremely low calorie content, dragon fruit can be considered a highly nutrient-dense fruit.
Types of Dragon Fruit
There are 5 types of Dragon fruit which are subdivided into different variants.
Sour Dragon Fruit: Also known as Stenocereus, is a type of dragon fruit that is regularly eaten in the dry regions of Americas. Apart from having a strong and sour taste, sour dragon fruit is also refreshing because of its juicier flesh. Locals in northwestern Mexico are still harvesting this fruit and known for its name “ziix is ccapxl“ which means “thing whose fruit is sour”. This dragon fruit has a more tart aroma like a watermelon. The seeds are edible which have a nutty flavor.
White Dragon Fruit: Also known as Selenicereus Undatus or Hylocereus Undatus. It is a type of dragon fruit that has a white flesh and pink skin. It is a sweet fruit and the most common dragon fruit. Included in this family are the cultivars Thompson, the largest dragon fruit that weighs up to 1.5 pound; Harpua, that has a semi sweet white pulp that tastes like a melon; and Neitzel, native to California with sweet taste and is tastier when chilled. David Bowie, Vietnamese Jaina, L.A. Woman, Seoul Kitchen are also some of the popular white dragon fruits.
Red Dragon Fruit: Also known as Hylocereus costaricensis or Pitaya roja. It is a dragon fruit with a red flesh and a red skin. It is a sweet-type dragon fruit with a texture similar to a Kiwi. It can be eaten fresh or added to salads, smoothies, cocktails, and salsa. One downside of eating red dragon fruit is it will stain your fingers, but preparing it with fruits that have a strong taste like pineapple is definitely satisfying. Cultivars under red dragon fruit are Costa Rican Sunset, Natural Mystic, Zamorano, and Red Jaina.
Yellow Dragon Fruit: Pitaya amarilla or scientifically known as Hylocereus megalanthus and with a common name of Selenicereus Megalanthus, is a dragon fruit variety with a yellow-skinned scale pattern with firm white flesh native to South America. This dragon fruit has a sole variety, but is known as the tastiest dragon fruit.
Pink Dragon Fruit: Though these dragon fruits are also part of the red-type dragon fruit, their flesh differs from the red ones. Pink dragon fruit has a soft to hot pink edible flesh. This type of dragon fruit can adapt to different varieties of climates and soil. Makisupa, Delight, Cosmic Charlie, Purple Haze, Voodoo Child, and American Beauty known as Hylocereus Guatemalensis, are among the pink dragon fruit varieties.
All these dragons are undoubtedly delicious and refreshing, especially when chilled. Everything you’re looking for when it comes to nutrition can be found in these fruits. May it be eaten fresh, served as juice, or cooked, dragon fruit is truly an amazing fruit and is something you can’t resist.
Growing Dragon Fruit Plants
Unlike most cactus plants, this one is a climbing plant that needs a bit of support to grow properly. It is a sub tropical plant that needs a lot of heat and humidity, so here is a breakdown of the information that you will need to nurture and grow dragon fruit.
Soil Requirements – This plant is able to grow in any soil that is well draining, but it prefers to grow in soil that is slightly acidic with a pH level that is between six and seven. Sandy soil is the best option for this plant; if it is not available, just ensure that it is well draining soil.
Fertilizer – To ensure that the dragon fruit is growing properly, give it some fertilizer every month during the active growing season. During the cold winter months, you will want to stop feeding your plant for a few months.
Water – Because this plant is a cactus plant, it is important to make sure that you are watering it properly. Only water the plant when the top of the soil is dry to the touch, and do not allow the plant to sit in water. The soil needs to be moist, not soaked.
Light Requirements – The base of the plant can see a little shade, but the tips of the plant require full sun to ensure that the plant blooms properly. If too much shade is given to the plant, the fruit will not do well.
Temperature Requirements – Dragon fruit will not grow in cold climates, so make sure that the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent damage from occurring to the plant. For optimal growth, the temperature needs to be between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pruning a Dragon Fruit Cactus
If you neglect to prune your dragon fruit cactus, the chances of fungal disease and insect infestation will increase. It can also result in poor light penetration for the tangled center stems, which can impact fruit production. Regular pruning also encourages prolific flowering and prevents the plant from becoming too heavy for the trellis it's growing up.
Plan to periodically cut back any overly long, damaged, tangled, or dead stems as often as two or three times per year. If you're lucky (or have a younger plant), you may be able to get away with a single annual pruning session, which can be done after you're through harvesting the fruit.
Propagating a Dragon Fruit Cactus
Some dragon fruit cultivars are self-incompatible, which means you may need a few different types to ensure a better chance of fruit production through cross-pollination. Because most cultivars have a nocturnal flowering habit, you may need to hand-pollinate, as there may not be any bees or other pollinators around to do it for you. Even with this method, it can take up to six or seven years before dragon fruit cacti begin fruit-bearing if started from seed.
Fortunately, it's easy to propagate new plants from stem cuttings. To do so, begin by taking a decent-sized cutting (up to 10 inches in length) from a healthy stem. Treat the cut end with a fungicide, then plant it cut-side down in a pot that has been filled with a combination of potting soil and a bit of sand. Water the cutting slightly (do not soak) and set the pot in a shady location to "cure" for around a week. You can expect the cutting to grow quickly and may find that it begins bearing fruit in under a year.
Dragon Fruit Pollination
Moths, bats, and bees pollinate dragon fruit, but there are some varieties that do not self pollinate at all. This is where hand pollination comes into play. You will need to collect the pollen from two different dragon fruit plants, and gently use a cotton swab to paint it onto the stigma of the opposite plant to cross pollinate. This does need to be done at night, so between the hours of eight at night and eight in the morning is best. If you are pollinating different plants, use a new cotton swab for each. It will take about a month for the fruit to grow.
Harvesting Dragon Fruit
You will know your dragon fruit is ready to harvest when the flaps on the pink outer skin start to develop a withered appearance. If it's ripe, you should be able to twist it from the stem with ease—any fruit that has fallen from the stem on its own tends to be overripe, so timing your harvest properly is important. If kept in the refrigerator, dragon fruit can last up to two weeks.
Dragon fruit is rather exotic and may not be to everyone's taste. For those who do enjoy it, it's packed with vitamin C and lots of other beneficial minerals and antioxidants. The large, edible flowers that are produced by the cactus are also impressive—they tend to be white and have a strong fragrance. However, they are usually nocturnal, so you'll only get to enjoy (and pick) them once the sun has gone down.
Pests and Diseases
Mealybugs and aphids can be a common problem for a dragon fruit. They are sap sucking pests that basically feed on the sweet sap of the plant. Aphids also attract ants, who will then feed on the plant as well. Mites and thrips can also be a hindrance; they will not kill the plant, but they are not good for the overall health of the plant.
Dragon Spots, which occur on the stems and leaves of a plant, can be the sign that your plant has an infection. Bacteria can cause other issues as well like soft stem rot. This is a disease that affects the ends of the branches. These illnesses are typically transferred from plant to plant, so sterilize your clippers. Sunburn can occur during the hottest time of the year when the sun is sweltering hot, and if too much water is given to the plant, root rot can also occur.
Dragon Fruit Health Benefits
Dragon fruit has many potential health benefits, including:
It’s rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acid, and betacyanin. These natural substances protect your cells from damage by free radicals -- molecules that can lead to diseases like cancer and premature aging.
It’s naturally fat-free and high in fiber. It makes for a good snack because it can help keep you full for longer between meals.
It may help lower your blood sugar. Researchers say this might be partly because it replaces damaged cells in your pancreas that make insulin, the hormone that helps your body break down sugar. But the studies were done on mice, not people. It's unclear just how much dragon fruit you'd have to eat to get these benefits.
It contains prebiotics, which are foods that feed the healthy bacteria called probiotics in your gut. Having more prebiotics in your system can improve the balance of good to bad bacteria in your intestines. Specifically, dragon fruit encourages the growth of the probiotics lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. In your gut, these and other helpful bacteria can kill disease-causing viruses and bacteria. They also help digest food.
It can strengthen your immune system. Dragon fruit is high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, which are good for your immune system.
It can boost your iron levels. Iron is important for moving oxygen through your body and giving you energy, and dragon fruit has iron. And the vitamin C in dragon fruit helps your body take in and use the iron.
Dragon Fruit Health Risks
Dragon fruit is generally safe to eat, although studies have reported isolated allergic reactions. Symptoms include swelling of the tongue, hives, and vomiting. This type of reaction seems to be very rare.