Pitaya, Hylocereous undatus (Haw) - A Potential New Crop for Australia
Scientific name: Hylocereus oncampensis, Cereus triangularis
author, a final year student at Wageningen Agricultural University,
Netherlands, spent his practical period (May to September 1997) at the
New Crops Program, University of Queensland Gatton College, Lawes,
Queensland. Part of the period was dedicated to a literature review and
an evaluation of pitaya in Australia, with the cooperation of WANATCA,
DPI&F (Department of Primary Industry & Fisheries, Northern
Territory), Ben Gurion University (Israel), and growers in Australia.
was present in a list of forty plants compiled by the organisers of a
Tropical Fruit Planning Workshop held in Cairns in July 1997. Primary
producers at the Workshop put pitaya in the top ten of crops worth
further research and commercialisation. The fresh fruit was identified
and targeted as potential product.
A preliminary search on
pitaya, by means of amount of published papers worldwide indicated it
was among crops with recent increasing attention. This attention has
been limited to its appearance in foreign literature and the presence
of the crop in developing countries. Recent research carried out in
Israel towards drought resistant crops for the Negev Desert has drawn
attention to this cactus grouping.
Historical production of the
fruits could indicate a promising market and production potential. Its
distribution, and geographic and political characteristics may have
favoured development of local markets. Growing attention towards
drought resistant plants, and expansion of production areas under
possible global warming, are factors of relevance in Australian
is a common name applied to a broad variety of warm-climate cacti fruit
(Table 4.1), from different species and genera. It represents an
interesting group of underexploited crops with potential for human
Table 4.1. Name,
common name and source of species and genera of cacti, known as pitaya
or pitahaya, illustrating the variety of edible fruiting species.
Sources: Fletcher, 1997; Nerd et al., 1997; Mizrahi et al., 1996a; Janick, 1996.
|1||Acanthocereus occidentalis Br. & R.||pitaya|
|2||Acanthocereus pentagonus||pitahaya, naranjada|
|3||Acanthocereus tetragonus (L.) Humlk||pitaya, acanthocereus|
|4||Cereus peruvianus (L.) Muller||pitaya, apple cactus|
|6||Echinocereus conglomeratus||pithaya de agosto|
|7||Echinocereus stramineus||Mexican strawberry, pitahaya|
|8||Escontria chiotilla (Weber) Br. & R.||pitaya, jiotilla|
|9||Hylocereus costaricensis (Weber) Br. & R.||pitaya, pitahaya|
|10||Hylocereus guatemalensis (Eichl.) Br. & R.||pitaya, pitahaya|
|11||Hylocereus ocamponis (Salm-Dyck) Br. & R.||pitaya roja|
|12||Hylocereus polyrhizus (Weber) Br. & R.||pitaya, pitahaya|
|13||Hylocereus undatus (Haw) Br. & R.||pitahaya oregona, red pitaya, strawberry pear, dragon fruit, dragon pearl fruit, thang loy, pitaya roja|
|14||Myrtillocactus geometrizans (Mart.) Cons.||pitaya|
|15||Selenicereus megalanthus (K. Schum ex Vaupel) Moran||pitaya amarilla, yellow pitaya|
|16||Stenocereus griseus (Howarth) Buxbaum||pitaya de mayo|
|17||Stenocereus gummosus (Engelsm) Gilbs.||pitaya agria|
|18||Stenocereus queretaroensis (Weber) Buxbaum||pitaya de queretaro|
|19||Stenocereus stellatus (Pfeiffer) Riccobobo||pitaya de augusto|
|20||Stenocereus thurberi (Engelsm.) Buxb.||pitaya dulce|
|21||Stenocereus thurberi var litoralis (E.) B.||pitaya dulce|
crops are referred to as producing pitayas, a variety of columnar and
climbing cacti bear these delicious, medium to large fruits. Hylocereus guatemalensis,
referred to at theTropical Fruit Crops workshop, probably originates
from Kamerunga. Unfortunately, no trials were carried out as far as is
known, and no data are available on pitaya from the research station. A
yellow fruiting species originating from this station is present at the
DPI&F in the Northern Territory.
Early imports in North Queensland from Colombia are recorded as Hylocereus ocampensis, red pitaya, and Cereus triangularis, yellow pitaya. Probably the yellow pitaya was Selenicereus megalanthus, and the red pitaya, Hylocereus ocamponis or Hylocereus undatus. Cereus triangularis is a synonym of Hylocereus undatus (Table 1).
species have been widely distributed in the past. This genus is
commercially grown in the Americas, originally, and in Vietnam, where
it was imported by the French and is locally recognised as native
species by now. Recent research and development in Israel provides a
rich source of information.
Closely related species may have importance in breeding. The small group of crawling cacti comprising Hylocereus, Selenicereus, and Mediocactus species should be given attention. They are assigned to the tribe Cerecae, subtribe Hylocerecae. Mediocactus is intermediate between the others, according to Britton & Rose.
production and cultural conditions are required for these species,
which permits some comparison between the species. Cullmann et al.
mention 24 and 25 species of Hylocereus and Selenicereus species
respectively. Distribution of the species occurs roughly from Mexico
and Texas to Peru and Argentina.
Performance in Australia, its
commercial production in Latin America, Vietnam and Israel, and
availability of literature have broadened and restricted further
research to crawling cacti. An analysis of the most important species
is given in
pitayas described are fruit from segmented, vine-like crawling cacti.
They have aerial roots, and originally lived an epiphytic life. The
roots are used to attach themselves to supports. They are shade
tolerant and flower at night.
The large white flowers gave them
their popularity as ornamentals, named Moonflower, Lady of the Night or
Queen of the Night. Fruits are brightly coloured, and have an unique,
attractive appearance. The red pitaya bears large fruits, which are
pink, red, or mauve in colour, weighing around 150-600 g and containing
many, small edible seeds. Their pulp varies from white to various hues
The yellow pitaya (Selenicereus megalanthus)
is a smaller fruit, and is covered with many small clusters of spines,
which are easily brushed off the fully ripe fruit. It is commercially
grown in Colombia, has white pulp with higher sugar levels. Fruits of
the climbing cacti are harvested when changing colour, and tend to hold
for at least one week. Cooling (10-12 degrees C) does not seem to
affect the fruit adversely.
Fruit set takes 30-50 days after
flowering, and 5-6 fruit crop cycles (between May and November) a year
are seen in Nicaragua, yielding 10-12 t/ha in the fifth year. Orchards
of the same species yield 30 t fruit/ha/year in Vietnam. The yellow
pitaya differs remarkably in fruit characteristics and fruit
development, with a fruit development time of about five months.
The crawling cacti, particularly Hylocereus,
have gained popularity in ornamental production in greenhouses in
Europe and the United States as rootstock for other, slow-growing
ornamental cacti. According to Backeberg, all species bear red fruits,
except for a very few Selenicereus species.
pitaya is a species of dry tropical climates. Maximum temperatures of
38-40 degrees C, and minor short frosts (0 degrees C) are survived
without major damage.
Rainfall requirements are modest (600-1300
mm), while excessive rain leads to flower drop and fruit rot. Due to
their epiphytic life in the areas of origin, these cacti formed aerial
roots to find nutrients in cracks where organic material concentrates.
There is a positive response in growth to the amount of organic matter
in the soil, but highest number of roots and greatest bud number are
obtained in sand.
Cultural practices employ a trellis, or,
traditionally, old tree stumps or living tree posts. As the plants have
high tolerance to sulphurous gases, commercial production in Nicaragua
is found on the slopes of the Mount Santiago volcano. In Nicaraguan
plantings, propagation is done by stem cuttings, placed at 3 x 5 m on
living tree posts. Nutrients can be applied by foliar spraying, or
through fertilizer spreading.
Some pests and diseases are
recorded on pitaya. Problems in Australia are most likely to involve
birds, possums, rats, or bats feeding on the fruit. Observations in
Australia indicated similar effects to those caused in Central America
by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris, causing rot in the stem flesh, leaving the main veins intact. Except for local insect attack, a fungus (Dothiorella), causing brown spots, is mentioned as one of the important problems in Nicaragua.
4.3. Selection of important species of Cerecae and Hylocerecae, for
fruit potential, with synonyms, names used referring to the species and
Sources: Barbeau, 1990; Weiss et al., 1995; Mizrahi et al. 1997; Jorge et al., 1989
|Name||Synonyms||Some References Made From||Common Name|
|Selenicereus megalanthus (K. Schum. ex Vaupel) Moran||Cereus megalanthus (K. Schum. ex Vaupel)||Mediocactus megalanthus (K. Schum. ex Vaupel), Hylocereus triangularis, Cereus triangularis, Mediocactus coccineus, Hylocereus sp. Katom||Yellow pitaya, pitaya amarilla|
|Hylocereus undatus (Haworth) Br. & R.||Cereus undatus Haw., Cereus triangularis Haw., Cactus triangularis L., Cactus trigonus Plum.||pitahaya, pitaya roja, dragon fruit, dragon pearl fruit, thang loy|
|Hylocereus costaricensis (Weber) Br. & R.||pitaya, pitahaya, pitaya silvestre, wild pitaya|
|Hylocereus polyrhizus (Weber) Br. & R.||pitaya, pitahaya|
Freshly cut stems and flowers of Selenicereus grandiflorus,
in particular, are used in the preparation of drugs with a spasmolytic
effect on the coronary vessels, and to promote blood circulation. For
this purpose, cuttings are cultivated in hot-houses. S. megalanthus contains the heart tonic captine. The H. undatus fruit is noted to be useful in combating anaemia. Stems of the species are sold in homeopathy.
germplasm is already available in Australia. A few growers in the
Northern Territories and Queensland have some species. The DPI&F in
Darwin recently addressed attention to pitaya. Since Israeli research
and breeding has been carried out, imports of this material, supported
by local plant improvement, should yield good commercial varieties and
Experience in growing this crop in Australia shows low
yields. Two fruiting cycles, one in May, and a smaller one in August,
have been recorded in the Brisbane area. Enquiries from growers in
north Australia indicate difficulties with fruit set. Growth and
performance in Australia are so far not very promising. Although good
yields are obtained, sunburning, insufficient pollination, and unknown
nutritional requirements can be identified as causing this poor
A limited production in California, grown on a
small scale by a few producers, has led to occasionally selling in
Farmers Markets on a individual basis.
considerable investments seem to be necessary in commercial production
of pitayas, Israeli observations show relatively cheap trellising could
be sufficient. If providing shade, however, proves to be necessary in
commercial production, extra costs will be incurred. Solutions such as
netting will protect as well against possible bird attack.
attractive fruits will draw attention at the market place in the first
phase. Customer demand at the moment is fragile and very low because
the fruit is unknown at the markets. The market size for exotic fruit
is limited, but growing. Consumer acceptance, measured in the Brisbane
markets, gave an indication of good performance for yellow pitaya, and
moderate for red pitaya, as fresh fruit. Musky smell and taste of the
red variety might explain limited enthusiasm.
In August, market
prices of $7-8 per kg in Barcelona and $40 per 8-12 pieces were
observed. Local Californian produce was sold at $8-10/ kg through 1996.
Due to its novelty and small amounts traded, no more reports were made.
Barbeau however made notice of several consignments exported to Europe,
and Utopia Pty Ltd is successfully importing Colombian pitayas into
One species is grown in Vietnam. Pitayas are
commercially produced and sold as dragon fruit, dragon pearl fruit or
thang loy. Production takes place along the coast from Nga Trang to Ho
Chi Ming City. Very little information, however, seems to be available
from Vietnam. Some articles are being translated from Vietnamese at the
Vietnamese exports to other Asian markets show
potential markets in Hong Kong, China, and Japan for high quality
fruit. Twenty two tons of pitaya were imported in Japan in 1988.
Specimens of the Vietnamese fruit have been imported into the Northern
The variability in size, taste and colour of the
fruits indicates the strong need for coordination in commercialisation.
In respect to potential future export, attention should be addressed
towards the characteristics of the Vietnamese H. undatus and exported varieties from Israel. The red pitaya (H. undatus) as referred to by Barbeau, grown in Nicaragua, is red-fleshed.
are picked when most Australian-grown tropical fruits are finished.
Fruits are widely appreciated, especially chilled or served with lemon.
Compared to prickly pear, these fruits are easier to handle due to the
thornless skin (or thorns are easily removed before entering the
market, in the case of Selenicereus). Their very small, black seeds are similar to the seeds of the kiwi.
is an organised tropical fruit industry present in the northern regions
of Australia. Transport and handling of a new fruit, if information is
provided to concerned parties, should be carried out relatively easily.
With regard to infrastructure, specific knowledge of cultural practices
and problems in picking the fruit, have been gained in Israeli
Profitability is expected to be high in the first
phase. The attractive and unique fruit fits into the Australian market,
regarded as willing to try out new products. There is a growing trend
in demand for tropical fruit and prices are high. Additionally, export
to Asian countries, where the fruits are already known, is a market for
high quality produce.
Weaknesses are seen in the lack of any
experience in Australian markets. No commercial growers or plantings
have been made in Australia as yet. Consumer awareness will demand
education and time before the product might be widely accepted. Lack of
resources is a general constraint, arguing for good communication
between those involved. Prices are likely to fall if higher production
levels are obtained. To succeed in providing future export markets,
identification and coordination between growers and industry are likely
to be keys to success.
The diversity of varieties present under
one name is likely to cause difficulties for consumers in recognising
of the product. Pitaya, dragon fruit, or other brand names could be
applied to different varieties, and be a solution to problems with
interpretation of the product name.
Better varieties and current
research in Israel create opportunities for commercialising pitaya in
Australia. Import of germplasm to be able to carry out breeding
programs or to introduce Israeli hybrids are options. Pitayas have a
relatively fast return, for tropical fruits, starting to bear in the
second year, reaching full production in five years.
of water, fertiliser and pesticides, could make organic production a
good opportunity, still producing high quality fruit. To maintain high
prices and demand in new exotic fruits, high quality has proven to be
Quarantine to import plant material from
overseas, and particularly phytosanitary regulation limiting export of
fruits to the Asian markets, could be seen as threats to the developing
pitaya market. Cheap commercial production in Vietnam, Central America
and other countries could be serious competitors in providing export
markets to Australian producers. Pitayas act as hosts for fruitfly, but
the Japanese Plant Quarantine can provide certificates if proper
disinfestation is undertaken. Import of germplasm into Australia takes
processing of the red fruits, for ice-cream, juice, wine, fruit salads
and recipes should be further researched and published. Markets are
currently restricted to fresh fruit due to lack of information for
other uses. A restaurant supplier in Brisbane showed enthusiasm both to
process and consume fruits.
A Nicaraguan study has shown that
the pulp contains 84.4% water, 0.4% fats, 1.4% protein, 11.8%
carbohydrates, 1.4% cellulose, and 0.6% ash. Red varieties contain
anthocyanins, giving a strong red colour. Increasing sugar levels would
increase consumer acceptance.
Novelty and lack of experience in
Australia should warn producers to continuously evaluate markets. To
secure future markets, coordination is important from the beginning.
Consumer education, and analysis are important to respond to unexpected
So far, no records in Australia are known of
production levels comparable with data from its region of origin. We
might assume higher production will be obtained when providing shade.
Bleaching and death occurs at photon flux up to 2000 to 2200 moll
photons/m/s in S. megalanthus and will cause reduction in yields for
Research on environmental factors influencing
induction of buds in order to manipulate them is lacking. Flowering is
initiated at the end of the dry season in Central America, and
continues throughout the wet season. Barbeau notes this might be a
dependence on day length. Fruiting occurred in two to three waves in
experimental production in Israel, from June to November, possibly
However their adaptability and performance
in the field are much less than that of opuntia, where drought
resistance and high seed production favour distribution in the wild.
Spread was found minimal of H. undatus, and not seen as threat, because of low fruit set.
Several pitaya species planted in the Negev Desert in Israel are being examined. At present, the cytogenetic make-up of Selenicereus megalanthus is being studied with the aim of understanding its low seed set and consequently low fruit weight. Cross pollination between Hylocereus species yield heavier fruit. As well, crop improvement in Cereus peruvianus,
with similar fruit, could act as competition for crawling cacti. These
latter columnar cacti don't require any support and are also
characterised by high growth rates. Their good performance in high
salinity and lower susceptibility to sun burning could be advantages in
the same potential production areas.
Pollination problems are
often met with in Australian-grown pitaya. Moths and bats are the
native pollinators. However, their short individual flower opening
period - one night - requires high presence of pollinators. Ants are
observed pollinating flowers, honey bees visit flowers, but are low
effective in pollination. The effect of pollination was researched by
Weiss et al., and showed higher fruit weight for cross-pollination
between Hylocereus species. Some of the species were self-sterile.
measures and other postharvest treatments have to be developed.
Australia is exporting mangoes to Japan, and this market, together with
Hong Kong and Taiwan for fresh tropical fruit as imports, is growing.
selecting pitaya as a crop and product, some selectivity has been
inevitable. I have attempted to give an indication of factors that were
used here, however this was difficult and is not complete. Potential
growers should define markets and product themselves and make a
business plan according to the specified target.
A lot of plants
from the Americas, tropical and subtropical species, have been
cultivated, but never become well-known. Their richness in semi-arid
crops is likely to be a promising resource for relatively dry regions.
Climate change and increasing CO2 levels should open eyes and make us
aware to treat our planet with more respect. At the same time, CAM
plants and species from arid zones should get more attention if present
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