Tag Archives: dragonfruit

Experiments: Hylocereus megalanthus

Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow dragonfruit)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Triffid Ranch doesn’t focus solely on carnivorous plants. The last ten years have been a boot camp on care and propagation of two species of the Hylocereus climbing cactus known commonly as “dragonfruit.” Getting seeds for the two most common species, white (H. undatus) and red (H. costaricensis), was exceedingly easy as dragonfruit continue their rise in popularity in American markets. (An extra surprise for those wanting to buy carnivorous plant seeds: since dragonfruit seeds are almost identical to Venus flytrap seeds, scammers sell a lot of dragonfruit seeds all over Amazon and eBay.) Every reference I could find about the yellow dragonfruit cactus, H. megalanthus, though, noted that it was very hard to find outside of Central America, and a business trip to Nicaragua turned up other species growing under live oak trees but no fruit. By last New Year’s Eve, I’d given up on finding any, so guess what happened when my wife pointed out a new entry at our local Asian market?

Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow dragonfruit) -sliced

Getting one home, several things presented themselves as I went to work with a knife. Firstly, these fruit were imported from Ecuador, suggesting either that Ecuadorean farmers are competing with the big red and white dragonfruit farms in Vietnam, or that there’s something about megalanthus propagation that makes growing them in the Americas much easier. Secondly, as compared to the firm and crunch flesh of other species, megalanthus fruit is just pulpy enough that they’re shipped in the same padded netting used for Asian pears to keep them from bruising during transport. Thirdly, while most Americans are disappointed by the very delicate flavor of red and white dragonfruit (that delicacy, incidentally, is why I love them and could eat them all day), megalanthus fruit has a very distinctive sweet flavor, much like the syrup in canned fruit cocktail. Get the word out to chefs and bartenders in the States and Europe, and Ecuador will have to quintuple dragonfruit production just to keep up with demand.

Yellow dragonfruit (Hylocereus megalanthus) seeds in propagation

Oh, and the most interesting part besides the color of the peel? Yellow dragonfruit seeds are HUGE compared to those of other Hylocereus species. They’re still perfectly edible, and they add a very satisfying crunch when inhaling the fourth yellow dragonfruit of the night, but this suggests further research on which animals are used as vectors for those seeds: I’m putting down early money on lizards and tortoises as well as birds. On any case, most of the remaining fruit went into propagation, using techniques that are very productive for the other commercially grown Hylocereus species: tall pots under a propagation dome, with the fruit scraped out of the rind, spread out atop potting mix in thin strips, and more potting mix put on top to facilitate decay of the pulp. In about a month, we’ll learn if this worked: wish me luck.

All-Con: The Aftermath

Well, that was an interesting weekend. All-Con 2012‘s ending saw wild rainstorms, nearly 11.5 centimeters in less than 12 hours, and pollen explosions, and the pollen explosions started a bit early. As the sole purveyor of floral entertainment, I spent the whole weekend apologizing to visitors to Texas. A tiny bit of advice: when you see your dealer’s room neighbor with an exceptionally puffy face, offer a couple Zyrtac instead of asking “So how badly did you kick that motorcycle gang’s asses?” She’ll appreciate the gesture.

Anyway, since All-Con is predominately a costuming convention with undertones of extreme strangeness, the Triffid Ranch booth didn’t stand out that much. However, it’s just distinctive enough that attendees who visited last year were quite pleased to see it as part of the assemblage. As can be told by the photos, Triffid Ranch customers are just as diverse as the plants, and the photo quality was limited only to the talent or lack thereof of the guy holding the phone:

Drosera with matching Union Jack

Slave Leia in action

This show featured a whole set of bottle arrangements with small sundews inside, and these were surprisingly popular among the costumer population. Next year, I’m making a set specifically to encourage visitations from resident Mayas, Delenns, and Martha Joneses.

Poison Ivy

This young lady came to the show as an artist’s model, entering the Saturday night costume competition as the classic Batman villain Poison Ivy. Who knew that she’d have a real-life fascination with carnivorous plants?

Flytrap with Pink

Manager at Rockwall Half Price Books

As an extra, the Rockwall Half Price Books store hosted a booth, and I knew the manager from when he worked at the Richardson store and watched me strip the gardening section. He was just as thrilled to get a sundew as everyone else.

Triffid Ranch enthusiast with bottle arrangement

Dragonfruit cactus in action

It wasn’t all about carnivorous plants at this show. The dragonfruit cactus is gradually waking up from winter slumber, and this gentleman really wanted something different.

The end result of button repair and replacement

Oh, and as an extra, it’s not always just about the plants. This young lady came by to tell me how she had an emergency costume failure…

The button closeup

…repaired with a Triffid Ranch button. I’m half-tempted to host a contest for the most interesting use of a Triffid Ranch button in the future, because I’m honestly surprised at every show about their uses.

Introducing Hylocereus costaricensis

In what’s shaping up to be the worst drought in recorded Texas history, there’s a few bits of good news. Namely, it’s a remarkably good season for dragonfruit cactus.

Hylocereus costaricensis

The genus Hylocereus is one of the two genera of true cactus raised commercially for food: the other being the prickly pear Opuntia. In the US, two varieties generally appear for sale in Asian markets and high-end grocery stores, and both are sold under the common name “dragonfruit”. It’s not hard to see why, between the color and the scales, as shown below.

Dragonfruit

The difference between the two is really only obvious when you cut one open. H. undatus has white flesh speckled with tiny black seeds. H. costaricensis, though, is a brilliant red-purple, about the color of fresh pomegranate juice, with the same black seeds. Sometimes it can be hard to tell which variety is which solely based on the rind, but it really doesn’t matter as far as the flavor is concerned. First-time dragonfruit eaters are often disappointed at the seeming lack of flavor in the ripe fruit, as it’s really subtle, but the crunchy consistency makes up for it. (I personally prefer it well-chilled, quartered, and served with the rind on the back of each segment, but it’s also a great addition to fruit salad or smoothies, and dragonfruit jam is apparently quite popular in England. I’ve heard of recipes that involve broiling dragonfruit like grapefruit, but dragonfruit doesn’t last long enough around the house for this to be an option.)

Sliced dragonfruit

With one big caveat, both commercially available varieties of Hylocereus are very easy to raise in propagation. They can be grown from seed taken from ripe fruit: my best results have come from mashing a chunk of the fruit gently with the flat of a knife, smearing the pulp atop standard potting compost, and keeping the compost moist but not wet. The only real problem with this method is that the resultant seedlings are very slow-growing, and they tend to be rather susceptible to large changes in environmental conditions. A much more dependable method of propagation involves cuttings, and considering how often branches break off, simply putting the cutting atop a pot full of compost can produce a full-sized plant within a year instead of three to four for seedlings. Most branches grow aerial roots whenever the ambient humidity is above 50 percent, so just sink those into the compost and watch the plant take over.

As a potted plant, H. costaricensis makes a spectacular hanging basket. In the wild, Hylocereus climbs trees with the help of those aerial roots clinging to bark, but it also apparently sprouts in the crooks of large trees or rocks and hangs downward. Since it’s a tropical cactus, Hylocereus cannot handle sustained freezes, and should be brought into shelter when the outdoor temperatures drop below 40 degrees F (4.44 degrees C). Since it adapts very well to both standard pots and hanging pots, though, this generally isn’t a problem. The typical cactus spines are both small and fragile in Hylocereus, and don’t appear to set off any sort of allergic reaction, but be cautious all the same. Other than giving it full sun to light shade whenever possible, these cactus are very low-maintenance: I water whenever dry, and fertilize with bat guano about once per month.

Hylocereus costaricensis in hanging basket

Remember the caveat mentioned before about dragonfruit propagation? If you’re planning to grow any Hylocereus, don’t expect the cactus to start blooming until it gets big. Most growers report that the individual plants won’t bloom until they weigh at least 10 pounds (4.53 kilograms), and some varieties may not bloom until the total weight of the plant is over 20 pounds (9.07 kilograms). The good news is that unlike most other cactus, Hylocereus is self-fertile, with some plants producing fruit without being pollinated at all. They’re also apparently capable of producing viable hybrids within the genus, leading to quite the entertaining assortment of cultivar names, ranging from “David Bowie” to “Physical Graffiti”. In addition, the night-blooming flowers are huge, resembling giant white versions of Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) and very sweet-smelling.

The only complaint I have about raising Hylocereus is minor. Namely, growing them is addictive. Expect to see several plants at next month’s FenCon show, and we can all sing Ministry’s “Just One Fix” together.