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Dragon Fruit Plantation Guide

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dragon-fruit

1. INTRODUCTION – DRAGON FRUIT

Dragon fruit, a recently introduced super fruit in India, is considered to be a promising, remunerative fruit crop. Fruit has very attractive colour and mellow mouth melting pulp with black colour edible seed embeded in the pulp along with tremendous nutritive property which attract the growers from different part of India to cultivate this fruit crop which is originated in Mexico and Central and South America. It is a long day plant with beautiful night blooming flower that is nicknamed as “Noble Woman” or “Queen of the Night”. Fruit is named as pitaya because of the bracts or scales on the fruit skin and hence the name of pitaya meaning ‘‘the scaly fruit’’.Pitaya fruit is among the most nutritious and wonderful exotic fruits. It is a favorite to many, particularly people of Asian origin. There are 3 types dragon fruit based on their colour.

  • Red colour fruit with white colour flesh. 
  • Red colour fruit with red colour flesh.
  • Yellow colour fruit with white colour flesh. 

The dragon fruit can be made into juices, wines, flavorings and of course, medicine. Like many other fruits, the dragon fruit has medicinal benefits that a lot of people have grown to trust and depend on.The biggest advantage of this crop is that once planted, it will grow for about 20 years, and 1 hectare could accommodate about 800 dragon fruit plant. It is being grown commercially in Israel, Vietnam, Taiwan, Nicaragua, Australia and the United states. It produces fruit in the second year after planting and attain in full production within five years. Hylocereus comprises 16 species, which are endemic to Latin America and they are not very well known among the growers and researchers and have only recently been the subject of studies. 

Dragon Fruit production is gaining more and more recognition as an important crop. It is a nutritious fruit with a variety of uses. The fruit pulp can be eaten fresh and can be made into various valuable processed products. The fruit possesses medicinal properties: it is known to prevent colon cancer and diabetes, neutralizes toxic substances such as heavy metals, reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure. It is also reported to control high sugar levels, prevent cancer and bleeding, and promote dental health. Dragon fruit helps improve digestion and reduce fat. It helps maintain the health of eyes. Cultivation of dragon fruit already started in different part of west Bengal with many success stories of farmer from different regions. However, it was first successfully grown in Gujarat state. Many nursery men started propagation for raising planting material of dragon fruit.

2. BOTANY

Pitaya are fast-growing, perennial, vine-like cacti. They have triangular (3- sided), green, fleshy, jointed, many-branched stems. Each stem segment has 3 flat, wavy wings, with corneous margins and may have 1-3 small spines, or are spineless. The stem section of pitaya forms aerial roots which adhere to the surface upon which they grow or climb. The pitaya flower is white, extremely showy, edible, fragrant and bell shaped, about 1ft long and 9 inches wide. It is a night blooming flower. Unopened flower buds can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable; opened flowers can be used for tea. The fruit is a fleshy berry, which is oblong with red and yellow scaly peel. The flesh may be red or white depending on the species. Seeds are very small, numerous and black, embedded within the flesh.

3. NUTRITION

Proximate nutraceutical values in g or mg per 100 g edible portion of white-flesh dragon fruit are as follows:

Nutritive value per 100 g of dragon fruit

PrincipleNutritive value
Moisture85.3 %
Protein1.10 mg
Fat9.57 mg
Crude fibre1.34 mg
Energy67.70 Kcal
Carbohydrate11.2 mg
Glucose5.70 mg
Fructose3.20 mg
Sorbitol0.33 mg
Vitamin C3.00 mg
Vitamin A0.01 mg
Niacin2.80 mg
Calcium10.20
Iron3.37
Magnesium 38.90
Phosphorus27.75
Potassium272.0 mg
Sodium8.90 mg
Zinc0.35 mg

Regarding different uses of Dragon fruit, young stems ofH. undatusare edible as well as fresh flower buds that are eaten as vegetables, while dried ones are used for homemade medicine. In Taiwan, dry flowers are consumed as vegetables besides this it is also taken in the form of juice, jam, or preserves according to the taste needed, besides used as fresh table fruit. it is widely used as juice and in fruit salads at restaurants. Regular consumption of Dragon fruit helps in fighting against cough and asthma; also it helps for healing wounds and cuts quickly due to it contains high amount of vitamin C. However, the high level of vitamin C found in Dragon fruit plays an important role to enhance immune system and also to stimulate the activity of other antioxidant in the body. In addition to being used as a food colouring agents, consumption of Dragon fruit mostly as fresh fruit as relieving thirst due to it contains high water level compared with other nutrient levels Health benefits of Dragon fruit is also rich in flavonoids that act against cardio related problems, also dragon fruit aids to treat bleeding problems of vaginal discharge. Dragon fruits are rich in fibers; however, it aids in digestion of food. Dragon fruit is also packed with B vitamin group (B1, B2 and B3) which possess an important role in health benefit. Vitamin B1 helps in increasing energy production and in carbohydrate metabolism, Vitamin B2 in Dragon Fruit acts as a multivitamin; however, it aids to improve and recover the loss of appetite. And Vitamin B3 present in dragon fruit plays an important role in lowering bad cholesterol levels; it provides smooth and moisturizes skin appearance. As well as it improves eye sight and prevent hypertension. Dragon fruit is also helpful in reducing blood sugar levels in people suffering from type 2 diabetes, studies suggest that the glucose found in Dragon fruit helps in controlling the blood sugar level for diabetes patients. It contains high level of phosphorus and calcium. It helps to reinforce bones and play an important role in tissue formation and forms healthy teeth.

4. CLIMATE

Pitaya plants should be planted in an open well-lit sunny area for best growth and fruit production. Avoid windy areas as strong consistent winds can damage the trellises or other types of support provided for the stems.

5. SOIL

Pitaya can be grown in a wide range of soils. Soils that are well drained and high in organic matter are recommended. Beds of 40 – 50 cm high and 3 m broad with loose soil are recommended.

6. VARIETIES

Several species with varying skin and pulp colors, such as red skin/red pulp, red skin/white pulp and yellow skin/white pulp are produced in St.Vincent and the Grenadines. The fruit comes in three types, all with leathery, slightly leafy skin: 

Hylocereus undatus—white flesh with pink skin,

Hylocereus polyrhizus– red flesh with pink skin, 

Hylocereus costaricencis– with violet red flesh and pink skin and 

Hylocereus (Selenicerus) megalanthus– white flesh with yellow skin.

7. PROPAGATION

Seedlings are slow growing, and unreliable for propagation.H.undatusand H.costaricensiscan be multiplied naturally and very easily by cutting off the stem as soon as it touches the ground. It takes 14 months to come to bearing under west Bengal condition; however duration may vary in different locality for different climatic conditions. Seeds can also be used as propagation material but it will take 3 years to come to bearing. The hardiness of the crop enables it to survive under field condition. Provided cuttings are at least (50 to 70) cm in length and are regularly watered in order to ensure satisfactory rooting. 2 -3 years old strong and dark green branches should be selected then taking away from the tree and cut in pieces of 40 – 50 cm long. The cuttings must have good eyes, which are covered by strong thorns and without damages or pest infectations. If all these conditions are provided around 90% of the cuttings ensure rooting.  A slanted cut is made at the stem base, this is left in a shaded area for about 5-7 days to dry and heal before being planted out directly in the field.

8. DRAGON FRUIT PLANTATION

For Dragon fruit plantation, plant the cured cuttings directly into the soil at a depth of at least 1½ – 2 inches. Provide a stake as support for the new plants, e,g. wooden or concrete posts, a wall or a fence. Mounds should be prepared with loose soil and fertilizer (20 kg organic fertilizer + 0.5 kg super phosphate+ 1kg NPK 16-16-8 per 50 supporting posts before dragon fruit plantation.  3-4 cuttings should be planted around the supporting post and covered with soil, straw and finally tied.

The distance between dragon fruits plants depends on the type of support used. With a vertical support a 2–3 m distance between planting lines is required which could accommodate 2000 and 3750 cuttings/ ha, at the rate of three cuttings per support is planted.

With horizontal or inclined supports the density can be much higher since the cuttings are planted every 50–75 cm around the production table (6500 cuttings ·ha–1) or along the inclined support (6500 cuttings–1). Planting at a distance of 2.5 m each to row and between the plants with 4 cutting/ support can accommodate 6400 plants / ha and also gives good yields and quality of fruits. The height of these different types of support should be between (1.40 and 1.60) m for vertical supports and between (1 and 1.20) m for horizontal and inclined supports to facilitate management of the crop.

9. CANOPY MANAGEMENT FOR DRAGON FRUIT PLANTATION

Dragon fruit is a semi epiphytic vine plant which can climb naturally to any natural or artificial support they meet (trees, wood or cement posts, stone walls, etc.), due to presence of aerial roots. Many different types of support are used, but mainly vertical supports made of wood or cement and iron posts and on horizontal and inclined supports. Plant growth is rapid and continuous, though possibly with a vegetative rest period when the climatic conditions are unfavorable (drought and very low temperatures). Growing them flat on the ground is not recommended, firstly because it makes cultivation more difficult (pollination, harvest, etc.), secondly because contact with the ground causes damage to the vines. Pitahaya are thus best grown on living or dead supports. Plant growth is rapid and continuous, though possibly with a vegetative rest period when the climatic conditions are unfavourable (drought and very low temperatures). When vertical and horizontal supports are used, pruning is important and the stems should be selected in such a way as to force the plant to climb over the entire support. All lateral growth and parts of the plant facing the ground should be removed, while the main stems and branch stems are kept, except those that touch the ground. Major pruning is carried out the first year after planting. Whatever the support used, the stem must be attached to it with a clip. The aim of maintenance pruning is to limit bunch growth and this should be carried out as early as the second year after planting. In practice, the extent of pruning depends on the type of support and its strength. For example, a 3-yearold plant weighs around 70 kg. Even if this weight is not in itself a problem for the different types of support, bunches may not be able to withstand violent winds. Pruning consists of removing all the damaged stems from the plant in addition to those that are entangled with one another. The post-harvest pruning encourages the growth of new young shoots that will bear flowers the following year.

10. MANURING AND FERTILIZATION

 In Dragon Fruit Plantation, for better yield performance of the crop proper nutrient requirement is needed. The pitahaya’s root system is superficial and can rapidly assimilate even the smallest quantity of nutrients.Fertilizer recommendations include :

  • The first year: 50 g Urea + 50 g Super phosphat/3 times/year/supporting post. 
  • Fruit bearing stage : 0.5 kg Urea + 0.5 kg Super phosphate + 0.5 kg potasium + 20 kg organic fertilizer/ 3 times/year/supporting post. 
  • Additional application of micro elements such as foliar fertilizer can be used 1 time/ week when the fruits are developing. 
  • The fertilizer must be stop at least 10 days before the fruits be harvest.

11. IRRIGATION

 Even if pitahaya can survive with very low rainfall, many months of drought, when good quality fruits are required, a regular water supply is needed. Regular irrigation is important, because it enables the plant to build sufficient reserves not only to flower at the most favourable time but also to ensure the development of the fruits. Local micro-irrigation is recommended. In addition to the efficiency of the water supplied by this system, micro-irrigation avoids uneven and excess watering that can result in the flowers and the young fruits falling off.

12. INTERCULTURALOPERATIONS

Weeds close to the plant should be removed manually. Use a herbicide with a shield for weeds along the inter row space. Big weeds should be controlled at any fertilizer application but small weeds can be left in order to get a cover on the bed which limits the evaporation of water and fertilizer. Finally the base of the supporting post should be covered with 10 kg of coconut peat as fertilizer and soil porous maker. During the rainy season, particularly so in areas with sandy soil, the mature pitaya fruits must be harvested on time to prevent the fruits from absorbing excess water which causes them to split open. 2. Always use a shield when applying gramoxone or any herbicide to avoid damaging the plant.

13. POLLINATION

The lack of genetic diversity and/or the absence of pollinating agents in certain production areas mean that manual crosspollination pollination is needed to ensure fruit set and development. Manual pollination is simple and this operation is facilitated by the floral characteristics of Hylocereus, as the different floral parts are huge. Finally, manual pollination may be carried out from before anthesis of the flower (from 4:30 P.M.) until 11:00 A.M. the next day. These manual pollinations are worth undertaking and the fruits obtained are of excellent quality.

 A butterfly belonging to the Sphingideae family, of the genus Maduca  and early morning by bees. Pollination is accomplished by opening the flower by pinching the bulging part. This reveals the stigmata, which are then covered with pollen with a brush. Alternatively, the anthers can be directly deposited (with minimal pressure) on the stigmata with the fingers. The pollen can be removed from a flower of a different clone (or from another species) and stored in a box until needed. The pollen removed from two flowers will be enough for around 100 pollinations with a brush. It can be stored for from (3 to 9) months at –18 °C to – 196 °C without risk. Fruits obtained after pollination using pollen stored at 4 °C for (3 to 9) months are very small. However, the quality of the fruits resulting from free pollination is generally lower than that of those obtained by manual cross-pollination.

14. HARVESTING

The fruit skin colors very late in the maturation stage, changing from green to red or rosy-pink (25 or 27 days) (depending on the species) after anthesis. It will take 30 days for harvest to H. costaricensis. Four or five days later, the fruits reach their maximal colouration and leads to splitting and cause economical loss. The first harvest begins from the 14th months (H. costaricensis) after the cuttings were planted under west Bengal condition; the time period between flowering and harvest is short and varies only slightly, from (27 to 33 days) depending on the ecology. The yield depends on planting density and is around (10 to 30 t/ha). The absence of a peduncle makes picking difficult. The present harvesting technique of simply move the fruit in clock wise direction and twisting the fruit cause less or no injury to the fruits. The fruits are not very fragile, but to ensure a good quality product certain precautions should be taken; for example, careful handling during processing and storage, especially for H. costaricensiswhose foliated scales is brittle.

15. PESTS AND DISEASES

Few pests have been recorded on Hylocereus. Ants belonging to the genera Attaand Solenopsisare very notorious pest and can cause major damage to the plants as well as to the flowers and fruits. Cotinus mutabilisperforates the stem and Leptoglossus zonatussucks the sap, leaving stains and some deformation. Different species of aphids and scales have also been observed on fruits and flowers. Rats and birds can cause serious damage, mainly to flowers  and fruits  as well as ripe fruits. In fact, bees can be extremely efficient and, after only a few hours of activity, they will have harvested all the pollen. The pollen must thus be collected before the bees arrive and manual pollination carried out the next morning as soon as the bees have left the plantation. Different fungal (Gloeosporium agavesMacssonina agavesDothiorellasp. and Botryosphaeria dothidea), viral (Cactus virus X), and bacterial (Xanthomonassp. and Erwiniasp.) diseases are also reported in the literature and can have major consequences.

Contributed By:

Dr. Parshant Bakshi & Mudasir Iqbal

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