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Pitaya/Dragon Fruit

ritau
05-14
A pitaya is the fruit of several different cactus species indigenous to the Americas. Pitaya usually refers to fruit of the genus Stenocereus,while pitahaya or dragon fruit refers to fruit of the genus Hylocereus, both in the family Cactaceae. Dragon fruit is cultivated in Southeast Asia, Florida in the United States, the Caribbean, Australia, and throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

These fruits are commonly known in English as "dragon fruit", a name used since around 1963, apparently resulting from the leather-like skin and prominent scaly spikes on the fruit exterior. The names pitahaya and pitaya derive from Mexico, and pitaya roja in Central America and northern South America, possibly relating to pitahaya for names of tall cacti species with flowering fruit.The fruit may also be known as a strawberry pear.

After a thorough cleaning of the seeds from the pulp of the fruit, the seeds may be stored when dried. The ideal fruit is unblemished and overripe.

Seeds grow well in a compost or potting soil mix – even as a potted indoor plant. Pitaya cacti usually germinate after between 11 and 14 days after shallow planting. As they are cacti, overwatering is a concern for home growers. As their growth continues, these climbing plants will find something to climb on, which can involve putting aerial roots down from the branches in addition to the basal roots. Once the plant reaches a mature 10 pounds in weight, the plant may flower.

Commercial plantings can be done at high density with between 1100 and 1350 plants per hectare. Plants can take up to five years to come into full commercial production, at which stage yields of 20 to 30 tons per hectare can be expected.

Pitaya flowers bloom overnight and usually wilt by the evening.They rely on nocturnal pollinators such as bats or moths for fertilization. Self-fertilization will not produce fruit in some species, and while cross-breeding has resulted in several "self-fertile" varieties, cross-pollinating with a second plant species generally increases fruit set and quality. This limits the capability of home growers to produce the fruit. However, the plants can flower between three and six times in a year depending on growing conditions. Like other cacti, if a healthy piece of the stem is broken off, it may take root in soil and become its own plant.

The plants can endure temperatures up to 40 °C (104 °F) and very short periods of frost, but will not survive long exposure to freezing temperatures. The cacti thrive most in USDA zones 10–11, but may survive outdoors in zone 9a or 9b.

Hylocereus has adapted to live in dry tropical climates with a moderate amount of rain. The dragon fruit sets on the cactus-like trees 30–50 days after flowering and can sometimes have 5-6 cycles of harvests per year. In numerous regions, it has escaped cultivation to become a weed and is classified as an invasive weed in some countries.

As the nutrient content of raw pitaya has not been thoroughly analyzed or published as of 2019, the USDA FoodData Central database reports one limited product label entry from a manufacturer of a branded product, showing that a 100 gram amount of pitaya contains 60 calories, 82% carbohydrates, 4% protein, and 11% of the Daily Value each for vitamin C and calcium.
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