Article and photo by Gail Thomas

Exotic dragon fruitIt looks as exotic and decorative as its name, is a hugely popular fruit in Vietnam and is now a familiar sight on greengrocers’ shelves in Australia.
Dragon fruit’s origins are in tropical central and South America, it’s a member of the cactus family and while there are red and yellow fleshed varieties of Pitaya, as it is also known, it is the white-fleshed Dragon Pearl fruit (Hylocereus undatus) also known as Thanh Long which is the most common variety available commercially.
Research shows the French introduced the cactus species Hylocereus undatus into Vietnam 110 years ago, and the plump red, succulent fruit resembles the fiery breath of a dragon, hence it’s name.

These ornamental climbing cactus are drought and heat tolerant and also adapt to cold and poor soil and can produce up to 150 fruit per plant. Cuttings of around 50cm are the preferred method of propagation and need to be cured for a week by storing in a dark place before being potted into a free-draining mix.
Cuttings require shade and minimal water and fertiliser before roots develop, then they can be planted in a 30cm high mounded area three metres apart. Support posts with a frame on top are used to train the plants, as branches need to hang down to flower and fruit, and tip pruning will thin flowers and fruit allowing for easy management and accessibility.
Buds emerge in summer and are contained in aerioles along the three-ribbed stem, then the buds form into branches or flowers. The cactus produces large white scented night-blooming flowers and fruits between October and March.

Fruitset development is rapid and fruit is ready to be harvested at around 35 days when it is at the pink/red full-colour stage with the scales remaining green.
The fruit can vary in size from 200-500g and boasts a vibrant pink/red skin which is around 3-4mm thick encasing a translucent creamy white pulp flecked with tiny black seeds which somewhat resembles the texture of kiwifruit.
The fruit is high in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, is harvested when ready to eat and has a shelf life of 3-4 weeks under refrigeration. The refreshing juicy flesh has a clean mild flavour, is best served chilled, can be scooped out and will also slice well. It can be used as a dessert, incorporated into salads, drinks, served on a cheese platter or even in a decorative ornamental manner for table centre arrangements.Dragon fruit plants are available from Dayley’s Nursery or phone: 02 6632 1441