Featured

Dragon Fruit: A New Entrant in Kerala Fruit Basket

Pavithra K.J. and Dr. Mini C
Pavithra K.J. and Dr. Mini C
Dragon Fruits
Dragon Fruits

Kerala’s fruit market has witnessed a wide transition in the consumption pattern and acceptability of exotic fruits. Recognising the health attributes, exotic fruits like dragon fruit, have captured the hearts of common public in a meantime. Dragon fruit, recently renamed as “Kamalam”, has become the consistent member in our state’s fruit basket.

Dragon fruit (Hylocereus sp.) is a tropical/subtropical fruit belonging to the family cactaceae. It is native to Mexico and Central/South America and is popular across Southeast Asia.The fruit is cultivated in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands with an estimated total area of less than 400 ha.It is also well established new crop in China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia, Vietnam due to its least care requirement for its cultivation and minimal attack of pest and diseases. The biggest achievement of this crop is that once planted, it will grow for about 20 years, and one hectare could accommodate about 800 dragon fruit plants.

Dragon fruit is a herbaceous fast-growing perennial climbing cactus that grows up to 10 m long and requires support for growth. The stem is triangular, three-sided, green, fleshy with undulating horn-like margins bearing spines. The aerial roots, capable of absorbing water, are produced on the underside of stems and provide anchorage for stems on vertical surfaces. The flowers are white and large, bell-shaped, produce a sweet fragrance when in bloom, and require a long day for flowering. The beautiful night-blooming flowers give its nickname “Moonflower” “Noble Woman” or “Queen of the Night”. The fruit is a fleshy berry, oblong to ovoid, with bright pink and yellow-skinned varieties which are covered with bracts or “scales’, hence the name dragon fruit. The pulp is delicate, juicy, and contains numerous dark edible seeds of approximately 3 mm diameter. The fruit normally weighs from 150 to 600g. Dragon fruit is also known as Pitaya, Strawberry Pear, Night-blooming Cereus, Belle of the night, Cinderella plant, and Jesus in the Cradle.

There are three cultivated species of dragon fruit. They are; HylocereusundatusBritt and Rose (white-fleshed pitaya) with oblong shaped fruits weighing about 300-800g, H. polyrhizus(red-fleshed pitaya); H. costaricencis with violet-red flesh, red/pink peel; Oblong fruit weighing about 150-400g and H.(Selenicerus) megalathus (yellow pitaya) with ovoid or oblong fruits which weigh about 120-250g. H. undatusBritt and Rose is the most cultivated and consumed species of dragon fruit.

Dragon fruit is considered as a super fruit with high nutritive and medicinal properties. It helps to lower cholesterol and cardiovascular problems, boost immunity and metabolism, helps in digestion and lower blood sugars in type 2 diabetes, prevent cancer, premature aging and has wound healing property. The seeds contain natural oils and fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid and oleic acid (Omega-3 and Omega-9), which are useful for cardiovascular health. Dragon fruit is an important source of phytochemicals such as polyphenols, flavonoid and vitamin C which are related to antioxidant activity.

Cultivation practices

Dragon fruit plant prefers a dry tropical climate with an average temperature of 20-29ºC and can withstand temperatures of 38-40ºC, and as low as 0ºC for short periods. It can be grown on a wide range of soils from sandy loam to clay loam with 5.5 to 7 soil pH.

Propagation

Dragon fruit plants can be easily multiplied through stem cutting. Generally 20-25cm long stem cuttings should be taken from elite mother plants after the fruiting season,treated with fungicides to prevent diseases and planted in 12 x 30 cm size polyethylene bags, filled with 1:1:1 ratio of soil, farmyard manure and sand. The bags are kept at a shady place for rooting. Excess moisture should be avoided to prevent rotting. These cutting roots profusely and become ready for planting with 5-6 months and start flowering within 12-18 months after planting. Seed propagation results insmaller seedlings with thin stem even after one year of plantingand  the plants produced from seeds are not true to type and there is lot of variability among the plants; hence  seeds are generally not used for commercial multiplication of dragon fruit.

Dragon Fruits

Planting

Dragon fruit plants prefer full sunlight open areas, green house cultivation is also recommended. Planting should be done in the rainy season for better establishment. As climbing cactus with a weak and segmented stem, it requires vertical pole support for optimum growth and fruiting. Growing them flat on the ground is not recommended, due to difficulty in cultivation (pollination, harvest, etc.), because contact with the ground causes damage to the vines. Dragon fruit are thus best grown on vertical or inclined living or dead supports made of wood or cement and iron posts.Generally in single post system planting is done at 3x3 m distance and in paired row system, planting is done at 6x2 by 2x6 at 1 m distance. The number of plants per pole may be 2 to 4 depending on the climatic condition.Single pole system showed better performance in growth and yield when compared with another trellis system. For planting, pits of 60 x 60 x 60cm are dug, filled with top soil, farmyard manure or compost with 100 g of super phosphate and small brick pieces and sand are added for drainage.

Pollination

Flower production generally takes place during April-August in the humid tropical conditions. It is cross pollinated and flowers open in the night and remain open during night up to pollination.Generally honey bees and dragon flies are the pollinators. Manual pollination is simple and may be carried out before anthesis, from 4:30 P.M. until 11:00 A.M., the next day. These manual pollinations are worth undertaking as the fruits obtained are of excellent quality.

Intercultural operations

The root system is superficial and can rapidly assimilate even the smallest quantity of nutrients.The fast growing vines produce more thick dense of branches in initial stage and the removal of stem tip induces lateral branching. It is important to arrange round metal/concrete/rubber frame to maintain balanced shrub. Major pruning is carried out during first year after planting. The well grown vine may produce 30 to 50 branches in one year and more than 100 branches in 4 years. The post-harvest pruning encourages the growth of new young shoots that will bear flowers in the following year.Irrigation should be provided during dry season and frequent dry period without irrigation reduces the yield and quality of fruits. Approximately 1 to 2 litres of water per day per plant is sufficient during the summer/dry days. The creeping and climbing type weeds should be removed periodically as these entangle with the vines and affect the growth and yield.

Pests and Diseases

It prefers full sunlight open areas and sunburn injuries are noticed in many parts of India during March and April. Though dragon fruit is tolerant to major pests, minor pests like mealy bugs, termites, ants and scale insects are reported in dragon fruit. Important diseases that affect dragon fruit crop are anthracnose(Colletotrichumsiamense), brown spots, and stem rots (Xanthomonascampestrisand Erwiniacarotovora). Proper drainage, wider spacing, adequate air circulation and proper sunlight help in minimizing the diseases.

Harvesting

Dragon fruit plant normally bears fruits after 18-24 months of plantingand fruits are ready for harvestingat 30 -50 days after flowering. The most important maturity criterion is the change in skin colour to almost either red or yellow depending upon the cultivar. The most common harvesting practice is manual by twisting the fruit which often damages the skin and mechanical harvesting using knife/secateurs/shears can be carried out to overcome the damage. The fruit weight ranges from 300-800g and each plant produces 40 to 100 fruits per year. One plant normally yields 15 to 25 kg of fruits and the price ranges between Rs.125 to 300 per kg.

Postharvest Management

Dragon fruit is non-climacteric and has a short storage life due to high respiration, weight loss, and increased ripening process which causes shrivelling of fruit by eighth day of harvesting. Suitablepostharvest handling practices are to be adopted for enhancing the shelf life of fruits.

Harvested dragon fruits should pre-cooled immediately to remove the field heat before loading into containers for exporting.Based on the physical characteristics, dragon fruit is either graded into extra, class I, and class II categories or based on fruit weight by Codex Alimentarius. Recommended storage temperature for H. undatusand H. polyrhizus is 10° C and for yellow pitaya it is 6°C with 85–90% RH. Different physical (edible coating, heat treatment) and chemical treatments have been standardized to extend the shelf life of dragon fruit.Chilling injury, decay, mechanical injury, and moisture loss are the main postharvest disorders associated with dragon fruit.

Processing and value addition

Dragon fruit can be grown as an ornamental crop as well as for consumptions. The fruit pulp can be used for fresh, culinary and confectionery purposes. It can be fermented as wine, used in fruit salads and for the extraction of functional enzymes. Frozen pulp may be used to make yogurt, candies, ice cream, marmalade, jelly, juice and pastriesetc. Seeds have application as an ingredient in many food products and are utilized to extract oil which contains about 50% essential fatty acids. Unopened flower buds are cooked and eaten as vegetables. Both fresh and dried dragon fruit skin are rich in pectins and betalains making it natural food thickener and natural colouring agent.

Conclusion

Dragon fruit was declared as the super fruit in 2013 by USFDA and has the potential to be an integral part of the Indian fruit basket. Being succulent, the growth and water requirements are very less, they are less prone to the incidence of pests and disease and year-round production can be ensured which assures the growers a sustainable income. In India, the barren lands can be turned into dragon fruit cultivation belts. The vast number of processing opportunities further keeps the door open for the produce. Surplus produce can be processed and yet several avenues of value addition need to be explored. The never-ending nutritional and health benefits of this highly profitable commercial crop have made it the farmer’s favourite. Interestingly many farmers have shifted to dragon fruit cultivation and value addition activities, clearly showing the market potential of fruit.

Share your comments

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters