I first came upon this fruit growing in Ho Chi Minh in 2003 on a holiday. We sailed on the Mekong and one of our stops was a village. We stepped on solid ground and were shown around. The villager showed us the longan. Oh, how I love the luscious, juicy fruit! Then he pointed to the dragon fuit. At first glance, it looked weird and so unwieldy ! A cactus sprouting red, globular -like fruits. Around the village the dragon fruit made a conspicuous presence, dangling in rows on ropes and hanging wherever possible.
Back home, the fruit is no more a novelty item as Malaysia is also an important grower. I found out it was introduced into this country since 1997. But Vietnam tops the world in cutivating this fruit, at 10,000 hectacres.
By and large, the plant requires a tropical climate. It's quite a common sight to see dragon fruits grown on a large scale in open areas.
The dragon fruit shown here are grown by some students from the Economic Empowerment Programme (EEP) of Selangor Cheshire Home. 1000 plants are on this plot of land. Besides having classes for IT skills, they learn how to look after the plants. The acquired skills will be useful when they are ready for employment after their tenure is over.
I was lucky to snap some pics of the fruit in different stages of growth. Known also as pitaya, the dragon fruit is named for its colourful red scales tipped with green like those of the mythical dragon. There are 3 species :
1. Hylocereus undatus - with white flesh
2. H. polyrhizus - with red flesh
3. Selenicereus megalanthus - with yellow flesh and yellow skin.
The red flesh of H. polyrhizus contains anthocyanin, an oxidant which promotes good health.
In fact, I tried to grow the dragon fruit in my garden from a cutting. I found a sunny spot and used the pole of clothes line to act as the support. Alas, I didn't try hard enough. It was a malnourished, skinny plant. Nothing much happened.
The dragon fruit is a climbing cacti with aerial roots. It therefore needs pillars for support. Cuttings are buried 2 feet deep, leaving about 4 feet above the ground. A special wire, wood or concrete bracket is made at the top of the pillar or a motorbike tyre can be used.
Dragon fruit requires 100% sunlght and the fruits can be covered with netted bags to protect them from fruit flies and mites.
Dragon fruit is a day long plant and it's large showy flowers bloom only at night. They can be more than 30cm long! It takes 35 - 45 days from flowering to fruit harvest.
The fruits are ready for harvest when 60% of the scales on the fruit turn red. The fruit are graded by weight:
Grade AA for fruit 500 -800 g each
Grade A - 350 -450 g
Grade B - 250 - 350 g
Grade C - less than 250 g. Use them for making cordials, syrup and jam
I have only eaten it as a fruit - scooped out of its skin or as a fruit salad. I enjoy the 'nutty' taste of the seeds which are much like the those of the kiwi fruit.The fruit is known for its high vitamin C content, minerals and high fiber.
You might like to try it as a smoothie with lime or lemon to taste. The flowers can be dried for making a tea, or cooked as a vegetable. After removing the spines, new stem shoots can be cut diagonally and fried as a vegetable or used to make soup.
Enjoy! Be in the pink of health!