The dragon fruit is an exotically shaped and brightly colored fruit, and goes by the names strawberry pear or pitahaya. It seems fitting that the fruit would come from an equally unique cactus plant. The Hylocereus genus of cacti is a night blooming cactus that is typically pollinated by moths and bats. The blooms are bright white and the fruit ranges from white to deep red to yellow. To eat a dragon fruit, scoop out the flesh or peel it with a sharp paring knife.
Dragon Fruit Varieties (Hylocereus and Stenocereus)
There are two basic varieties of dragon fruit: sweet or sour. Pitahaya is the fruit that comes from the cactus of the Hylocereus genus and pitaya is the fruit that comes from the cactus of the Stenocereus genus.
Hylocereus Genus Varieties
All of these fruits are mild tasting, and when chilled are served as a treat for the heat. All three varieties below have a different colored fruit. While all species of this cactus can be grown from seed, successful growing of the fruit and hardier plant stock is made from propagating the stems of the cacti.
Hylocereus undatus – “Moonflower”
This variety is a climbing cactus that grows many long branches from the base. It attaches itself through its many aerial roots. It is grown as both an ornamental plant and as a fruiting crop. The flowers are very showy, deeply cupped, and fragrant. The flowers have a bell shape to them, widening at the opening, and are between 9 inches and 14 inches long. The fruit has a red skin and a white flesh, and is mild tasting. It is typically served as a refreshment on a hot day – chilled with the flesh scooped out, or used for garnish to a plate or platter.
Hylocereus megalanthus – “Midnight Cactus”
Another night blooming flower, although this variety of cactus produces very large flowers – up to 38 cm long. This is also grown as a fruiting plant and an ornamental plant. The fruit is yellow (yellow pitahaya).
Hylocereus costaricensi – “Costa Rica Night Blooming Cactus”
Native to Costa Rica, this cactus is grown for both its fruit and its ornamental properties. This cactus differs from the other two varieties above by having grayish green stems and the flowers have a purple tinge to them. The flowers are also deep cupped and fragrant. The fruit has a deep magenta coloring with dark purple or black seeds and is more rounded than the other two varieties. Because of the bright color, the fruit is often used to color smoothies and drinks.
This fruit is sour (as opposed to the slighlty sweet fruit from the Hylocereus genus) and for many a very refreshing fruit. These fruits go by the names pitaya, and sour pitaya. The flowers for this cactus are also nocturnal.
Lobo, Ramiro. Pitahaya (Dragon Fruit) Research and Production in California. UC Small Farm 2007 Specialty Crops Conference. Print.
Morton, J. Strawberry Pear. NewCROP. Retrieved October 23, 2013, from hort.purdue.edu.