How to Grow and Care for Dragon Fruit Cactus (Hylocereus undatus/Selenicereus undatus)

Cacti are designed to look as unwelcoming as possible to hungry creatures, and this is a survival mechanism developed over thousands of years. 

But that’s not to say that cacti don’t produce things we can eat. You may be familiar with dragon fruit, but did you know that it comes from a cactus? 

Here’s how to grow the dragon fruit cactus, and how to get the best out of this plant.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About The Dragon Fruit Cactus

The dragon fruit cactus is a spectacular plant that looks perfect as an ornamental plant, with its vining habit, and huge white and yellow flowers. It’s also grown as a fruit crop for dragon fruit.

It’s worth noting that people mainly grow the dragon fruit cactus for its fruit as a commercial crop, as its growth habit is quite unruly, and this can put some people off, especially if you are new to growing plants.

These plants also make great protective barriers as hedges in warm areas and look particularly beautiful near patio areas used in the evening, when the plant flowers.

The dragon fruit cactus, also known as Selenicereus undatus, was previously classified under the Hylocereus genus, and some people still use the name Hylocereus undatus for this plant. 

No one is quite sure exactly where this plant came from. You can find it in many tropical places in the world, where people grow it for food. 

As it is a true cactus, it comes from the Americas in some form, but no one knows exactly where, and it is probably a hybrid. 

You may also know this plant as pitaya, the night-blooming cereus, and belle of the night.

Typical of some cacti, the dragon fruit cactus develops spines on the adult branches, so be careful not to plant it somewhere that you will brush past it.

Dragon fruit cacti produce fantastic flowers at the ends of the leaves, where they point towards the floor more often than not. These flowers only open at night, so you will have to stay up late to enjoy their captivating beauty and fragrance! 

They can reach 30cm long, and 17cm wide, making for a very impressive display. Each flower only lasts for a single night, but what a sight it makes.

How To Grow A Dragon Fruit Cactus

It’s worth noting that while dragon fruit cacti can vine, they can also creep, sprawl, and clamber, so you’re not limited to growing a dragon fruit cactus just up a trellis. 

The dragon fruit cactus can be a terrestrial plant (rooting in the ground) or an epiphyte (where it lives on other plants), and use aerial roots to climb. 

They have been known to reach more than 20 feet high when they grow up rocks and trees.

Sunlight And Position

Dragon fruit cacti like a sunny position, but they will also thrive in shadier conditions, as long as they get enough sunlight. 

They have also been known to bring trees down under their weighty stems, and climb towards the light. 

If you’re growing the dragon fruit cactus as an epiphyte, the plant needs very little irrigation, and regularly misting the plant is enough to sustain it, as it will draw the majority of the moisture it needs from the air.

If you want to grow a dragon fruit cactus in the ground, you will need to plant it in free-draining soil, preferably in a cactus soil mix that has plenty of grit. 

Scale back watering in winter, as during this season these beautiful plants are particularly vulnerable to rot. 

Dragon fruit cacti also require temperatures that are between 68°F and 86°F (or 20°C and 30°C), which means that they will not survive frost, and certainly won’t produce fruit in conditions with lower temperatures.

If you do live somewhere colder, you could try growing a dragon fruit cactus in a heated greenhouse, where it will get plenty of light and warmth. 

How To Propagate Dragon Fruit Cacti

Similar to most cacti, propagating a dragon fruit cactus is not difficult if you take cuttings off the branching stems (see also Tips To Propagate Cactus Plants).

While it is possible to grow these plants from seed, it is more difficult, and it will take much longer. 

Take a cutting of around 10cm long from a branching stem, and allow the cut to dry for about a week in a shady position. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and pot it up in a cactus-suitable soil mixture. 

When you see new growth, the cactus will have developed roots. It’s worth noting that it will take a long time for the new dragon fruit plant to produce any fruit. 

As a dragon fruit tree is quite top-heavy, you can tie in young stems to supports such as stakes, trellises, or even other plants, but the aerial roots will do this anyway.

Pests And Diseases To Watch Out For

Dragon fruit cacti are susceptible to mealybugs, scale, and mites, especially when grown under glass or indoors. 

You can use a solution of dish soap and water or rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to get rid of them as soon as you see them.

Thrips can also be a big problem, and the best way of getting rid of these is to use their natural enemies, like ladybugs. 

You can even order ladybugs online, enclosing your plant in a miniature greenhouse or even a bag, and releasing the ladybugs to deal with the infestation!

The fruit may attract ants, rats, birds (see also How To Keep Birds Out Of Your Garden), raccoons, and other animals if you grow the plant outside, in which case suitable netting might be needed.

Can You Eat The Fruit Of A Dragon Fruit Cactus?

The fruit of a dragon fruit cactus is edible, unlike the fruits of other cacti.

Dragon Fruit Cactus: Other Things To Consider

When Does The Dragon Fruit Cactus Produce Fruit?

In the US, the dragon fruit cactus produces flowers from June into August, and after these gorgeous blooms are pollinated, you’ll see dragon fruit ripe and ready to harvest in about a month.

Can A Dragon Fruit Cactus Pollinate Itself?

As the dragon fruit cactus produces hermaphroditic flowers, it can pollinate itself. Moths and bats are also pollinators of the flowers.

It’s worth noting that not all varieties of dragon fruit cacti can pollinate themselves, and when these are grown as food crops, they have to be pollinated by hand.

Can You Eat The Skin Of A Dragon Fruit?

Many people don’t eat the skin of the dragon fruit, but that’s not because it’s inedible or dangerous to do so. Frankly, it’s unpleasant, just like eating the skin of a kiwi.

Dragon Fruit Health Benefits

There are many benefits to be had from eating dragon fruit. They are rich in antioxidants, high in fiber, and also help to keep the heart healthy.

Final Thoughts

The dragon fruit cactus is certainly a beautiful plant that will add a lot of color to any space, but it can be tricky to grow outside warm zones. 

You may also try growing it as a houseplant, but it can be difficult to get it to flower and fruit indoors, too.

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