Monday, November 29, 2010


As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been a big fan of epiphytes for a long time. In my research, I found that there is an entire family of epiphytic cactuses native to the tropics of Central and South America. Naturally, I had to find one and add it to my growing collection of epiphytes. In particular there is one species that produces a large pink fruit with green scales called dragonfruit, or pitaya. Thus began a many-year search for either a plant to grow or a fruit to try. A few months ago, my wait paid off and I found a fruit at my local grocery store. It was a bit past its prime, but it was still quite tasty. The flavor was mild and sweet. I thought the closest flavor was pear. The texture was much more like kiwi, though, with firm flesh and crunchy seeds throughout.

The best part of finding a fresh fruit was that I was able to harvest over a hundred seeds from a quarter of the fruit. I promptly planted my first set of seeds in pots and they had a really good germination rate. I am not looking forward to thinning these precious darlings.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that cactus would count some epiphytes among its number. After all, if you put a dry-adapted plant in a wet environment, it probably would try to colonize the sunniest, driest environment available, which is what you get out on a tree branch.  As with many epiphytes, it starts its growth cycle in the ground and then grows up the tree, producing aerial roots that help it cling to the bark. While many epiphytes eventually lose their connection with the ground, I am not sure if dragonfruits do. In cultivation, they are kept in soil, which helps get them the nutrients they need to produce fruit. For directions on growing these plants, I recommend looking up the Texas Triffid Ranch’s dragonfruit care sheet.

As for my precious seedlings, I need two to produce fruit, and they won’t begin to do so until the weight of the plant is greater than ten pounds. So I will probably keep them in a pot and trim them to keep them small until I can get my greenhouse built and enclosed. Then the plan is to plant them at the base of a Meyer lemon tree or, if I can get one, a citrus fruit salad tree*. Then the dragonfruit can grow up the tree and I can get lots of interesting fruit from one cool clump of vegetation.

*A fruit salad tree is a tree that has branches from different kinds of trees from the same family grafted on. So you can do a peach tree that also has plums, pluots, almonds, and nectarines. You can also do one with many kinds of apples and pears. I am hoping for a citrus fruit salad tree, though, with branches containing Meyer lemon, kumquat, Key lime, blood orange, and pink grapefruit.

Picture of dragonfruit fruit courtesy of Brenden Gebhart.


  1. Oh now I will definately have to try that! I'm glad you posted this as I am sketching out plans for the dwarf fruit tree orchard for spring planting.
    I have a dwarf pear with 3 types of pears on it. I'll have to check out some other combos.
    Thanks now this will be so much more fun planning!

  2. I'm so glad to know that someone else has done this. I actually searched high and low for a grocery store that sold them, and I haven't found any since. My seedlings from earlier in spring have gotten between 4 inches and a foot long, and I've separated them without 'thinning' them out, leaving me with 27 plants not counting the ones I gave to friends. I'll probably make a hypertufa pot to grow them in, and grow the vining cacti up a trellis. I'm really big into all epiphytic cacti... all epiphytes for that matter!

  3. Any update on this? I love growing unusual fruits and vegetables, and have had my eye on dragonfruit for some time. Not sure they would grow where I garden, but it never hurts to try. Cheers!

  4. Zack, I have been a bit busy to do the required maintenance, but my dragonfruits are in desperate need of support. I'll get something built before too long. My biggest is about 2' long by now and I have several more that are over a foot long. They grow fast.