Dragon fruit

Singapore Infopedia


The dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) is a tropical fruit that belongs to the climbing cacti (Cactaceae) family. Widely cultivated in Vietnam, the fruit is popular in Southeast Asia.1 Apart from being refreshing and tasty, it has been noted that the dragon fruit is a rich source of vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus.2

Origin and distribution
The dragon fruit’s scientific name is derived from the Greek word hyle (woody), the Latin word cereus (waxen) and the Latin word undatus, which refers to the wavy edges of its stems.The origin of the dragon fruit is unknown, but it is probably native to Central America.4 It is also known as pitahaya in Mexico, and pitaya roja in Central America and northern South America. The Spanish name pitahaya may also refer to several other species of tall cacti with flowering fruit.5 The French introduced the fruit into Vietnam over a hundred years ago.6 

In 2013, it was reported that Vietnam is the world’s leading exporter of dragon fruit, with revenues from dragon fruit making up 55 percent of the country’s fruit export turnover.7 However, other countries such as Thailand, Israel, northern Australia, southern China, the Philippines and Hawaii have also been trying to grow the fruit.8 

The plant is a climbing cactus vine that grows well in dry areas.9 Because of its epiphytic nature, it grows best in soil with a high level of organic materials.10 Its flowers bloom only at night, hence the plant is sometimes also called the “moonflower” or “Lady of the Night”.11 The flowers, which bloom for only one night,12 are white and large, measuring 20 cm long or more.13 They are bell-shaped and are fragrant when in bloom.14 Pitahaya plants can have between four to six fruiting cycles in one year.15 It can be propagated by seed or by stem cuttings.16

The dragon fruit has a dramatic appearance, with bright red, purple or yellow-skinned varieties and prominent scales.17 The fruit is oval, elliptical or pear-shaped. The flesh has a subtly flavoured sweet taste or sometimes slightly sourish taste.18 The flesh is either white or red, with edible black seeds dotted all over.19

The dragon fruit is closely related to the orchid cacti, or epiphyllum, which are known for their large and impressive flowers. The pitahaya can be cross-pollinated with the epiphyllum.20

Usage and potential
The fruit is commonly eaten raw and is thought to taste better chilled.21 It is also served as a juice or made into a fruit sorbet.22 The fruit can be used to flavour drinks, while syrup made of the whole fruit is used to colour pastries and candy.23 Unopened flower buds can be cooked like vegetables.24 The dragon fruit reputedly improves eyesight and controls hypertension.25

Variant names
Common names: dragon fruit, dragon pearl fruit,26 pitahaya,27  strawberry pear,28 night-blooming cereus, Belle of the Night,29 Cinderella plant30
Scientific name: Hylocereus undatus31
Malay/Indonesian: buah naga or buah mata naga32
Mandarin: long guo33
Vietnamese: thanh long34

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman

1. Rolf Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide (New York: Comstock Publishing Associates, 2016), 129. (Call no. RSEA 634.6 BLA)
2. Ow Phui San Rebecca, Omru Nasrulhaq Boyce and Chandran Somasundram, “Pigment Identification and Antioxidant Properties of Red Dragron Fruit (Hylocereus Polyrhizus),” African Journal of Biotechnology 9, no. 10 (April 2010): 1450–454.
3. “Hylocereus Undatus (Dragon Fruit),” CAB International, accessed 8 March 2020.
4. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129.
5. “Pitahaya,” in The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). (Call no. R 423 OXF-[DIC])
6. Robert E. Paull and Odilio Duarte, Tropical Fruits: Crop Production Science in Horticulture 24 (Oxfordshire” CABI, 2012), 325.
7. Doanh Nhan, “Earning $1 Billion, but Fruit Exporters Can’t Get Good Night’s Sleep,” VietNamNet, 26 February 2014.
8. Nhan, “Earning $1 Billion.”
9. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129; J. Morton, “Strawberry Pear,” accessed 20 March 2020; “Dragon Fruit,” Trade Winds Fruit, accessed 20 March 2020.
10. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129; Trade Winds Fruit, “Dragon Fruit.”
11. Ernest Small, Top 100 Exotic Food Plants (NW: CRC Press, 2011), 101.
12. Trade Winds Fruit, “Dragon Fruit.”
13. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129.
14. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129.
15. Trade Winds Fruit, “Dragon Fruit.”
16. Trade Winds Fruit, “Dragon Fruit.”
17.  Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 128–29.
18.  Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129.
19. Paull and Duarte, Tropical Fruits, 329; L. Luders and G. McMahon, “The Pitaya or Dragon Fruit,” Agnote (May 2006)
20. “Pitaya, Pitahaya,” Top Tropicals, accessed 26 March 2020.
21. Trade Winds Fruit, “Dragon Fruit.”
22. David Karp, “Purple, Spiny, and Heading Your Way,” Los Angeles Times, 18 September 2002; Morton, “Strawberry Pear”; Barbara Rolek,Dragon Fruit Frozen Sorbet Dessert,” accessed 26 March 2020.
23. Morton, “Strawberry Pear”; Trade Winds Fruit. “Dragon Fruit.”
24. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129; Morton, “Strawberry Pear.”
25. Erum Akbar Hussain, Zubi Sadiq and Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq, Betalains: Biomolecular Aspects (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2018), 24.
26. Small, Top 100 Exotic Food Plants, 101.
27. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129.
28. Morton, “Strawberry Pear.”
29. J. G. Vaughan and C. A. Geissler, The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 676. (Call no. R 641.303 VAU)
30. Sumia Akram and Muhammad Mushtaq, “Dragon Seed Oil,” in Fruit Oils: Chemistry and Functionality, ed. Mohamed Fauzy Ramadan (Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2020), 676.
31. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants, 129.
32. “Buah Segar Malaysia,” Berita Harian, 28 April 2007, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “Dragon Fruit Frenzy,” Taipei Times, 27 July 2015.
34. “Dragon Fruit Assessment Manual,” NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, accessed 26 March 2020.

The information in this article is valid as atMarch 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

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