According to legend the fruit was created thousands of years ago by fire breathing dragons. During a battle when the dragon breathed fire the last thing to emerge would be the fruit. When the dragon was slain the fruit was collected by the victorious soldiers and presented to the Emperor as a coveted treasure.
The soldiers would then butcher the dragon and eat the flesh. It was believed that those who feasted on the flesh would be endowed with the strength and ferocity of the dragon and that they too would be coveted by the Emperor.
Living a Dream
Our interest in cultivating Dragon Fruit/Pitahaya came together when we met a dreamer. She dreamed of acres and acres of dragon fruit growing in the San Joaquin Valley. We were so intrigued by this beautiful and delicious fruit that we just had to give it a try. We are citrus farmers by trade who have been farming in the Valley for over 60 years. We first planted our dragon fruit on our 10 acre compound in the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Three Rivers located 2 miles from the southern entrance of beautiful Sequoia National Park.
Enter the dragon fruit plant…
Bring beauty and intrigue to your home and garden with the dragon fruit plant. A member of the cactus family, this incredible plant is full of great surprises. For starters, the plant itself has an exotic appeal unlike any other. The palm-like trunk leads up to a twisty patchwork of cactus looking vines. This Southeast Asian-style plant makes an excellent specimen for an oriental garden or tropical motif.
Adding a burst of color are the large white blossoms that can grow nearly a foot long. These lovely flowers are as fragrant as they are beautiful. But the real prize is the dragon fruit itself. Everything about the fruit is wonderfully different. From its elliptical shape to its striking neon-pink color, the dragon is a jaw dropping standout in the landscape. In fact, we can't think of any other fruit that's more visually appealing.
Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit that belongs in the climbing cactus family. Apart from being refreshing and tasty, it is also a super fruit.
It is currently being imported from Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico and a few other equatorial areas. A limited amount is being grown domestically in Florida, Southern California and Hawaii. This plant is very eye-catching, the unusual vine produces beautiful flowers in the spring and, if pollinated, delicious fruit. Described as “a cross between a melon, kiwi and strawberry”.
Dragon fruit requires a trellis, or fence to grow on since it is a climbing plant. The trellis will need to be strong enough to support a 200 lb. plant. When choosing a trellis, each has advantages and disadvantages:
Plastic is inexpensive and won’t rot; may not be heavy enough for a mature dragon plant.
Metal is more expensive than most materials but won’t rot and is very strong.
Wire is unlikely to be able to hold the weight of the plant.
Wood is sturdy, inexpensive and can be treated to resist rot.
Dragon fruit will also need to be pruned. In the following link, Ramiro Lobo of University of California Cooperative Extension talks about pruning your dragon fruit. Although the link talks about production pruning, this still applies to dragon fruit for landscaping purposes. Dragon fruit can be pruned to suit any backyard garden. https://youtu.be/N9-5L6uhRuI
Once you have secured your plant to a trellis and pruned it to your liking, it will require just a bit of tending and a limited amount of water. Do not over-water. This is a very hardy plant and, with a minimal amount of protection, can withstand the cold temperatures in the winter and the hot valley days of summer. Because these plants grow abundantly in tropical rain forests, your plant may require protection from intense sunlight, fog and frost. In the San Joaquin Valley this can be accomplished by planting in a container (at least 15 gallons) and placed in shade to part-shade.
To produce the mysterious and delicious fruit, some species of dragon fruit need to be pollinated (many varieties are self-pollinating). This plant is night blooming and the flower remains open for just one night. They are adapted to pollination by bats or hawk moths, and in the San Joaquin Valley hand pollination is common. Jake Mace, "The Vegan Athlete", does a great job of illustrating pollination in this link https://youtu.be/NLyC6zmS0iw. As you can see, pollination is actually quite simple. The plant will bloom several times throughout the growing season (May through November).
There are many named varieties of dragon fruit. Dozens have been identified but it is impossible to know exactly how many varieties are flourishing in California due to the fact that so many growers are manually cross pollinating different varieties with each other. Also, it is hard to know the variety of plants that are being imported from other countries. The quality of fruit does differ between varieties. We grow mainly red varieties such as Physical Graffiti and American Beauty. These two work well together for pollinating and have superior eating qualities.