Among the huge variety of exotic fruits that have recently come to our market, I consider pitahaya one of the most amazing. Everything about her is unusual. And the appearance resembles a huge bud of a fairy flower. And the taste is refreshing rather than striking with bright shades. And the features of the plant itself, which gives such peculiar fruits. But, most importantly, pitahaya can be grown independently on a windowsill from one of the many seeds present in its fruits. How to do it? I’ll tell you in my article.
Pitahaya – we grow hilocereus from seeds
How does pitahaya grow?
Meeting the pitahaya on the counter of the store, it is difficult to pass by – it is a very beautiful and unusual fruit. Something similar to a huge hot pink bud with green petals turned away over its entire area or a loose exotic cone. But the fruit is amazing not only on the outside, but also on the cut. If you cut it in half, in a “bowl” of a rather thick inedible skin, there will be a slightly sweetish pulp filled with thousands of small, apple-like, black seeds.
The taste of pitahaya, though not expressed sweet, is original, unobtrusively refreshing. To some, it resembles a mixture of kiwi and banana, to someone an unsweetened pear with hints of kiwi. However, the taste can vary depending on the color of the inside of the fruit. Pitahaya with a white center is less sweet, with a dark raspberry – more expressive in taste. But the similarity with kiwi rather gives not a taste shade, namely the presence of a huge amount of seeds, which is why the pulp in consistency resembles kiwi.
Whose fruit is this, pitahaya? It turns out that pitahaya, pitaya, dragon fruit, dragon heart, dragonfruit is the name of the fruit of liana-like cacti belonging to the genus Gilocereus (Hylocereus). These are cacti, which are epiphytes – plants that live on other plants.
In nature, these species grow in South, Central America and Mexico. On an industrial scale, they are grown on specialized farms in Southeast Asia (in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc.), as well as in Japan, China and Israel.
In general, these are 15 species, differing in triangular chaotically branching rather weak, but long shoots, reaching 10–12 m, which can grow both on the ground and, due to the large number of aerial roots, on trees. Often these shoots, with a diameter of 2 to 12 cm, are covered with short, up to 1 cm, soft acicular or bristle spines, but they can be without them.
Hilocereus bloom with the largest flowers in the world of cacti – from 10 to 40 cm in diameter. Each of them is unusually fragrant, but lives only one night and is pollinated by nocturnal insects.
Flowering begins in February and lasts until July, making it possible to collect 5-6 harvests from plants in six months, which in total provides a yield of about 30 tons per hectare. Fruits, depending on the species, differ in size, skin color and pulp. They can be pink, purple or yellow, reach length up to 15 cm, weight – up to 300-400 g.
The following varieties have been introduced into industrial culture – hylocereus sinuous, or wavy (Hylocereus undatus) – has red fruits with white or red flesh, Hilocereus Kotarican – purple with scarlet pulp, and hylocereus grandiflorum (Hylocereus megalanthus) – yellow with white flesh.
What are the benefits of hilocereus fruits?
Nutritionists consider pitahaya to be a fairly healthy and low-calorie product. There are only 100 kcal per 45 g of its berry-like fruits. The minerals and vitamins included in the composition make it possible to recommend them for enhancing immunity, strengthening the cardiovascular system, improving the functioning of the digestive system, lowering cholesterol levels, and improving the skin. However, we often eat them not as medicinal, but as exotic fruits.
Pitahaya can be eaten raw by cutting it in half and picking out the pulp with a spoon, or slicing it into wedges. You can make smoothies from it, add the pulp to freshly squeezed drinks and yogurts. At home, she goes to the production of marmalade, jelly, wine and juices, sweets. It is used for baking. Used as a seasoning. In the south of China, hylocereus flowers are also eaten, they are added to vegetable soups.
By the way, wavy Hilocereus in China is grown not only as a source of nutritious fruits, but also as a plant for the formation of hedges.
Also read our article 15 must-try tropical fruits.
How to grow pitahaya from seeds?
Despite the fact that hilocereus is an exotic plant, it is quite possible to grow it at home. It tolerates dry indoor air well. Put up with insufficient light, although he prefers a lot of light. All year round, it needs equally uniform, moderate watering. It responds well to the room temperature range from +18 ° C to + 34 ° C. And even tolerates short-term drops in temperature up to +5 ° C. At lower rates, it dies.
In order to grow this cactus at home, it is enough to collect seeds from the pitahaya, dry them and let them lie down for a while. Then soak for 5-6 hours in warm water, previously wrapped in a napkin or cloth, and sow over a previously prepared substrate. Next, you need to lightly sprinkle the seeds with sifted soil and tamp for better adhesion to the ground, and therefore accelerate germination. After – water the crops from a spray bottle and cover with foil. Please note that seed germination is lost within two years.
Next, the pot must be placed in diffused light and kept at a temperature of + 20 … + 25 ° C, periodically ventilating the greenhouse so that a lot of moisture does not accumulate under the film. Make sure that the soil is always moist, but not wet. And wait – seedlings will appear on the 15-25th day.
The substrate for the hylocereus should be nutritious and at the same time very light and quite acidic (pH 5,5). It can be prepared independently from 1 part of deciduous soil, 1 part of peat, which can be replaced with coconut fiber, 1 part, crushed to 0,2-0,5 mm in diameter, pine bark, and 2 parts of sand or vermiculite. Or take a simpler composition – 70% leafy earth and 30% sand. It can be easier – buy a substrate for cacti.
After the plants grow up, they must be transplanted into separate containers. Pots for this type of cacti are chosen immediately of medium size, since they grow quickly and have a fairly large root system. To obtain a more lush plant, several seedlings are planted in one at once.
For the full development of hyocereuses, it is necessary to feed them in the spring with fertilizers for cacti. Before flowering, which begins from the 2nd to 4th year, with a higher phosphorus content.
To stimulate the hilocereus to set flower buds, in January the plant must be stopped from watering and placed in cooler than usual conditions – with a temperature of +14 ° C. After a month of such artificial wintering, flowering usually occurs after 6-10 weeks. In order for the flowers to produce fruits, the cactus needs pollination, which will have to be done artificially, moving pollen from the stamens to the pistils.
Read also our article Passionflower – an exotic liana “not for everyone.”
Like any other cactus, hilocereus can also reproduce vegetatively. To do this, you need to cut off the stalk from it, dry it for 2-5 days and only then plant it in the substrate. In order for the cutting to take root well, it must be placed in a bright diffused light and kept at a temperature of +24 ° C. Cuttings grow, like seedlings obtained from seeds, quite actively. After 6-8 months, a full-fledged plant is obtained.