Hylocereus undatus, commonly called as 'Dragon fruit' or 'Pitaya', or ‘Pitahaya’ is a climbing vine belonging to the family Cactaceae. Out of 15 species of genus Hylocereus, only five species produce fruits. Though there are white, yellow and magenta (red) pulp color types available, white and red/magenta pulp color types are popular. The red color type belongs to Hylocereus polyrhizus species.
Though Dragon fruit has originated in Central America, is found distributed in over six continents. Probably it is known as ‘Dragon fruit’ because of its scaly appearance like a dragon. It is also grown as an ornamental plant because of its very attractive flowers. The fruit has been neglected by mainstream fruit traders for centuries, but now it has become one of the top exports of Vietnam. More than 2000 tonnes of Dragon fruits are being imported into India from Vietnam, Thailand and China every year.
In India, Dragon fruit is an introduced crop and is getting popular with more than 500 acres under commercial cultivation in states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Dragon fruit is highly perishable with a shelf life of only 4-5 days under ambient condition. If the crop harvest is delayed by 2–3 days after its full maturity, its quality loss is accelerated and fruits deteriorate easily. The fruits attain maturity within 2-3 days of peel color change from green to red or magenta. It is a non-climacteric fruit, and both white and red/magenta pulp color types develop red or magenta skin color at maturity. Under South Indian conditions, the fruit matures in 28-34 days. Cultivation of dragon fruit has great commercial prospects in India as its price in retail market ranges from Rs.200-300 per kilogram.
Dragon fruit has several nutritional and health promoting properties. Being high in moisture content, it is a good hydrant for the body besides having several phytochemicals, fibre and betacyanin (anthocyanins). Its pulp can be blended with mango and other fruits and made into sherbhat. Frozen pulp is used in ice-cream, yoghurt, jelly, preserves and candy. The flowers are fleshy and can be steamed/ cooked and eaten as vegetable. Vibrant color of the fruit is often used as a coloring agent in pastries, cakes, and other foods. It has several health promoting substances, and consumption of fruit is said to prevent occurrence of several diseases.
- Regular consumption of dragon fruit is reported to reduce the levels of cholesterol (hyperlipidemia), due to presence of omega fatty acids in its seeds and also high levels of fibres.
- Consumption of high fibre diet is associated with lower cardiac problems. It is said to fight against clogging of the arteries, and maintain good blood circulation.
- The antioxidants and other phytochemicals present in dragon fruit help in scavenging free radicals, which damage DNA and other cellular components and thereby prevent several kinds of cancers.
- In South East Asian countries, making a paste/poultice out of dragon fruit pulp and applying to face and skin is being practiced since ancient times to make the skin glow and reduce the aging process.
- The fruit is high in potassium and calcium content, helping in proper water balance in the body besides maintaining pH of blood. Scientific reports from Japan indicated that having diet rich in potassium helps to protect heart and kidney.
- Dragon fruit is also rich in vitamin C which helps to strengthen immunity, and formation of collagen and bones.
- The tiny black seeds in dragon fruit is purgative and helps in better bowel movement and reduce constipation, the root cause of many diseases.
As a crop of future, this exotic fruit has potential to contribute towards better income and health of people of India, besides import substitution. Dragon fruit can be grown across the length and breadth of the country under varying climatic conditions. Being a cactus, though its water requirement is very less (50 cm rainfall), it can perform well even under tropical conditions. Dragon fruit loves cooler weather with 20-30°C temperature and lesser sunlight. Around 1700 plants can be accommodated per acre when grown commercially. It can also be grown inside the compounds of homes, or in backyard. Cuttings of the plants are used as planting material, which easily root even without a rooting hormone. The plant while growing should be supported/propped with circular concrete or wooden or metal rings or frames to help it grow vertically and spread on the ring.
The critical stages of growth where little watering is essential are during planting, flowering and fruit development. It responds very well to drip irrigation. There are no serious pests and disease problems reported for this crop. After planting the plants come to flowering immediately after one year (12-15 months).
They flower during April to June and sometimes prolong till July and August. Within 28-34 days after flowering the fruits mature. In and around Bangalore conditions, the harvest starts from May and continues upto August / September. On an average farmer can harvest 12-15 tonnes/ha (5-6 tonnes/acre). A good quality/grade fruit weighs 350-400 g each. Currently most of the growers market their produce directly to the super-market chains. It can be stored upto 4 days under ambient conditions.
With reducing natural resources like water and land, dragon fruit holds great promise for increasing the income of farmers and enriching consumers food basket. The growing commercial importance of the crop warrants more research and, there is need for working out the region-specific cultural practices, nutrient requirement, postharvest management practices and marketing models.
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- Global Compendium of Weeds, 2015. Hylocereus undatus (Cactaceae). http://www.hear.org/gcw/species/hylocereus_undatus/