In the Philippines the epiphytic, fruit bearing, cactus of the Hylocereus genus, are known as pitaya. The fruits are known as dragonfruit. Pitaya, like all cactus species, is native to the Americas but has been naturalised in many parts of the world. Pitaya can be grown as an ornamental or for it’s fruits. Cactus and succulent enthusiast grow them because their stems make excellent root stock for ornamental cacti. I’ll teach you have grow pitaya and share my experience with these fascinating cacti.
Pitaya can be grown from seeds but a mature plant can be realised faster if one is to grow them via cuttings. If cared for well it will grow to be big enough to start bearing fruit. Growing pitaya from cuttings is very easy. All you need to do is bury around 10 cm (3in) of the cutting to the ground and wait for it to grow. You don’t even need to water. The cutting will be spending most of its time developing a root system and you won’t even know if something is happening. Be patient. Start watering when you start seeing shoots. Depending on the size and health of the cutting new shoots will form in 1-3 months. Frequent rains during the rainy season may cause the cactus to rot at the soil line. Just let it be. As long as the vascular bundles are intact, they usually callus and the cactus let the fleshy parts rot. You can either train the plant or let it just go about its business of growing. The fruiting season usually starts late May until September. The size of the cactus tells if the cactus will bear fruits in the fruiting season. Just make sure your cactus is healthy and thriving during the fruiting season and they’ll reward you with fruits.
Pitaya’s are epiphytic, they grow on trees, in nature. They are used to shade because they grow in the shadow of a trees’ canopy. As you can see in the picture below. Parts of our pitaya plants that are exposed the direct sunlight are turning yellow while parts of it that spends part of the day under the shadow of our house is a healthy shade of green.
During the fruiting season the pitaya plant bring forth buds that develops into flowers.
However, not all buds develop into flowers. Buds may sometimes turn yellow and fall off. This happens when the plant doesn’t feel like it will not be able to develop the fruit due to issues like light, water and/or nutrient availability.
Flower buds develop quickly and can open in 2-3 weeks. Flowers only open at night. The surest sign that the flower will bloom during the night is if it looks like it’s going to burst and you can see parts of the white petals.
The flowers are large, showy and fragrant. It opens around 8PM. Bloom peaks around 12AM to 3AM. By 4-5AM it is already starting to wilt. The video below is a time-lapse of the nocturnal pitaya bloom.
Pitaya’s only bloom at night because in their natural range, the unforgiving desert heat keeps pollinating insects away during the day. By morning the next day the flower has served it’s purpose and the plant abandons it.
The wilted flower will drop off or rot away and the remaining parts develops into dragon fruit over a few weeks.
Dragon fruit stops developing when it is taken of the pitaya plant so making sure that the fruit is ripe during harvest is important. Ripe dragon fruits have a bloated appearance. Depending on the variety, the color of the peel varies. My pitaya has a red peel and red flesh. Wait for the ripe color of your fruits to be the dominant color until only the tips of the protrusions remain green or yellow. You can also give the fruit a gentle squeeze. It should be soft but offer resistance. To harvest gently twist the fruit off. You may use snips if you don’t want the peel to be damaged. The sharp protrusions can be trimmed off.
Our pitaya only gets attention when it’s flowering and fruiting yet it thrives and rewards are efforts (or lack of it) with fruits. It’s one of the easiest fruiting plants to grow. In the future I’ll be posting about how to train them. I plan on starting a separate grow where I’ll be giving the plant proper care and grooming and see how much fruits it will bring me.
If you have any question please feel free to ask. Good luck and happy growing!