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Dragon Fruit Flowers

Dragon Fruit flower

(Hylocereus spp)

 

Dragon Fruit Flower Overview:

The Dragon Fruit Cactus (Hylocereus spp) is mainly cultivated for its tasty and unusual looking fruit.  However, the short lived flowers are also amazingly large and beautiful.

Dragon Fruit Flower opening

Dragon Fruit Flower in the evening

Dragon Fruit Flower detail

Dragon Fruit Flower Close up

Looking close inside the dragon fruit flower

Inside the Dragon Fruit Flower

 

Cinderella story:

The flowers life is a bit of a Cinderella story.  For most of its life, the flower bud spends its days blending into the background.  Then on one single night, it becomes larger than life and reveals its remarkable inner beauty;  flowing delicate white pedals surround a golden center.  However, like the fairytale, the flowers story is tragically short lived.  With the morning sun, the flowers begin to fade.  Eventually the flower withers to once again blend into the background.

Dragon Fruit Flower in the morning

The next morning many small bugs have been attracted to the sent and speckle the flower

 

What to look for:

  • Since the flower is nocturnal and only lasts for one day, it can be easy to miss.  However, if you know what to look for, you will have a better chance of seeing it bloom.
  • The flower bud will undergo a dramatic growth spurt just a few days before it opens.
  • On the day the flower opens, the flower bud will almost pucker at the end revealing a tiny amount of its white pedals at the end.  However, the flowers don’t actually start to open until the sun begins to go down.
  •  The flower springs into action at the moment the sun no longer directly shines on the plant.
  • The flowers can also be seen the next morning but not for long. The mighty looking flowers are surprisingly short lived and will be wilted by the following day.

I recently captured the blooming of a Dragon Fruit Flower with time lapsed photography.  I am working on a video which I will post shortly.

 

 

Update August 20, 2014:

Time lapse video of dragon fruit flowers opening: 

  • Here’s a video I just put together of beautiful dragon fruit flowers opening (see below).
  • The following 20 second video was created by taking a picture every 15 min for 2 days.
  • But I didnt stay up all night taking pictures with a stopwatch; I set things up to happen automatically and walked away.
          • FYI: If you want to make a cool time-lapse video like this yourself, you just need to get a simple plug-in tool for your SLR.
          • The tool is called a “Release Timer Remote Control” and it is what allows you to set the time and interval for when the pictures will be taken automatically.
          • The prices for this category of product is all over the map.  The one I got has great reviews and is very reasonable compared to the others.  It was only about $30 on Amazon. Here’s the link if you are interested; Release Timer Remote Control
          • This particular Release Timer also has a ton of other-additional features that I am only starting to explore.
          • Its actually pretty darn cool.
          • The only major drawback about this product that I have read about on the reviews is that it doesn’t have an on/off button.  Therefore, you need to take the two AAA batteries out between uses… Which is probability a good idea anyways.

 

 A bit of Biology:

The plant is native to Central American jungles where the nocturnal flowers are primarily pollinated by nectar-feeding bats. Moths and other insects may play a more minor role in pollination. In the morning other insects are attracted to the fragrant scent of the fading flower including bees and other insects.

Side view of the flower with ruler to show the large size. About a foot long depending on how you measure it.

Side view of the flower with ruler to show the large size.
About a foot long depending on how you measure it.

 

Get your own home grown flowers: 

Dragon fruit are delicious!

Ripe Dragon Fruit. ready to pick.

Ripe Dragon Fruit. ready to pick.

 

 

Stefanie from Southern California has sent in some lovely pictures of her dragon fruit cacti in bloom (see below). Thanks Stefanie!

Dragon Fruit Flower: Photo credit: fellow reader Stefanie from Southern California

Dragon Fruit Flower: Photo credit fellow reader Stefanie from Southern California

 

Stefanie adds that, "Some flowers take on an almost luminous quality when photographed." Photo credit from Stefanie living in Southern California

Stefanie adds that, “Some flowers take on an almost luminous quality when photographed.” Photo credit from Stefanie living in Southern California

 

Stefanie has a cool picture here that shows how her dragon fruit cactus rootlets have found her fountain which is connected to her aquaponics system. I am sure there is a lot of good nutrients in that water. Photo credit: Stefanie from Southern California

Stefanie has a cool picture here that shows how her dragon fruit cactus rootlets have found her fountain which is connected to her aquaponics system. I am sure there is a lot of good nutrients in that water. Photo credit: Stefanie from Southern California

 

Dragon Fruit Flowers opening. Photo credit Fellow reader Stefanie from Southern California

Dragon Fruit Flowers opening. Photo credit fellow reader Stefanie from Southern California

 

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

29 comments

  1. are they self pollinating, or are two different varieties needed. I have had up to 20 blooms or more at a time (beautiful)…and it has never set fruit…I have hand pollinated the folwers at dawn with a paintbrush….still no luck..Any advice helpful!

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Thanks for the question Frank; that’s a great one and something I struggled with myself.

      (Funny, I had done the same pollinating thing that you had described without any success. I even saved some pollen in a paper towel between blooming days and attempted to cross pollinate between plants… no luck there either). I also intentionally left other flowers alone just to see what would happen. Basically, some fruited and others did not and it had nothing to do with my pollinating attempts.

      Last year I got a few fruits and lots of aborted premature fruits falling off. This year I have lots of big fruits that are holding on and ripening nicely.

      There are a few differences between then and now and I am not sure what factor mattered the most or if they all did. The things that are different are my watering , fertilizing and the age of the plants.

      Since this reply is getting a bit lengthy, ill try to create a formal post early next week with more complete details.

      Also: yes there are some varieties that need cross pollination and others that are self fruitful.

      Best, Tom.

      • what kind of fertilizer do you suggest that will help in making the dragon fruit to be fruitful. My plants have lots of flowers but after a day they loo droopy and dryingup. Any suggestions what to do. Thanks

  2. Want to know how to pollinate pitaya plz

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Great question Jean Paul.

      You basically want to get the pollen to the female-part of the flower.
      -The female part of the flower is the octopus looking thing in the middle of the flower. This is called the Stigma and is where the pollen goes.
      -The pollen comes from the male part of the flower. The pollen is found on the anther and the anthers are the yellow things that surround the stigma.
      -Many people use a soft paint brush to transfer the pollen from the anthers to the stigma… but anything like that will work.

      Important note, a lot of this depends on if you have a self fertile variety or if you have one that needs cross pollinating.
      -For the self fertile type you can transfer the pollen to the anther from the same flower.
      -For the ones that need cross pollinating, you need to take the pollen from a flower of a different plant and perhaps different variety.

      Another important note:
      If the growing environment is not optimal the dragon fruit cactus tends to drop flowers and fruit prematurely even if your pollinating was done perfectly.

  3. Hi Thom,

    I am living in the north of IRAN in the city Babol, Mazandaran Province.

    I want to know about the possibility of growing Dragon Fruit in the north of my country. I am really interested to grow tropical Fruits in my country since here the humanity of weather and precipitation are acceptable.

    I want to try first from Dragon Fruit and grow it in the garden. The question that I have is about the possibility of growing the fruit in this area. Here is the link that shows the weather statistics of Babol City which shows the precipitation and temperature during last year.

    Weather Statistics:
    http://www.yr.no/place/Iran/Mazandaran/Babol/statistics.html

    Location:
    http://www.weather-forecast.com/locations/Babol

    Weather map:
    http://www.weather-forecast.com/maps/Iran?over=pressure&symbols=none&type=lapse

    I would appreciate you If you Guide me in this regard and give me some required documents which help me in growing this Fruit.

    Regards

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Ali
      Thanks for the great question.
      Honestly, I don’t know anything about growing in your area.
      Thanks for the links.
      Ill look into it and get back to you soon.
      Best,
      Tom

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Ali
      I did some research in regards to your Dragon Fruit growing question.

      One of the first things that I noticed is that you live in a beautiful part of the world.

      More specifically:
      From the climate information available, I would expect Dragon Fruit cactus to grow very well for you.
      Considering the amount of rain you get, they may grow even better for you than they do for me.

      -Basically Dragon Fruit cactus are subtropical/tropical jungle plants.
      -They like it warm and humid.
      -They like their roots to be moist but not waterlogged (They need well draining rich organic soil).
      -They will tolerate some frost but they don’t like it… and a deep freeze will kill them.
      -Partial sun/shade and overcast weather is just fine for these guys.

      Based on your weather, I would also expect that you could successfully grow all kinds of interesting tropical fruit.
      I would expect you could also grow just about anything that I have already talked about on this website.

      I look forward to hear about your success.

      Best,
      Tom

  4. I have a question concerning if a Dragon fruit tree is cut removing it from the root, how can I get this plant to a flourishing state! The tree had grown over on my side of a 7 foot fence from my neighbors and they had cut it on their side, not realizing that they had something amazing because most of the flowering and fruiting happened on my side of the fence, but early Feb of this year I noticed that it had been cut completely down. And now it is flowing but the buds looks like they are dieting from not have any water.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Napoleon

      Bummer that they cut down what sounded like a wonderful dragon fruit cactus.

      The good news is that Dragon fruit cactus grow very well from cuttings.

      I dont know your exact situation that you have, but if some of the branches fell into your yard, then you can just plant them in the type of soil conditions described in my article.
      If you happen to have more of the plant… with roots, then even better. Just put the roots in the same soil and growing conditions described.

      I wouldnt be surprised if there was not a lot of flowering success the first year.
      The in the first year, the plant should be spending its energy on establishing/re-establishing its root system.
      On that note, removing the flower buds in this first year may help the plant to redirect its reserves to the roots which will make the plant stronger and fruit better the following years.

      Best of luck,
      Tom

  5. Hello,
    I live in Alberta, Canada. Picked up a dragonfruit from the grocery store because I had never tried one before. This one had magenta-pink skin, white juicy flesh and black seeds. It was lovely sweet – like a cross between a kiwi, watermelon and apple. I planted the seeds and they all went crazy… I now have this hefty plant that I’m trying to grow in a pot and which now needs re-potting. I’m trying to figure out a few things – how big a pot it needs to be transplanted in (I was guessing a 25 gallon or bigger??), and also what variety this might be…any clues? It’s now 2 years old and about 4 feet tall. The new pot will be placed on a roller so I can wheel it outside during the spring/summer/early fall and back indoors for the winter – we get a tremendous amount of brilliant sunshine in the winter so the plant seems quite happy in an east window. In pictures I don’t see any thorns on most plants, but mine has very sharp hair-like thorns that give me a rash, so I handle the plant wearing the same leather gloves I wear when riding my horses.

    Really enjoy your site.
    Regards,
    Carol

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Carol

      Congrats:
      That’s is a great story.
      Congrats on your growing success.

      Container size:
      As far as the container size… Bigger is always better.
      A larger pot/container will help keep to the soil at a more uniform-constant moisture level and temperature.

      This may initially seem counter intuitive if you know where the dragon fruit cactus crow in their native lands.
      For example, in their native jungle habitat, dragon fruit cactus are often found living in the angles of big tree branches.
      This location is often a rather small space for soil to collect.

      But the key here is consistency.
      In their native environment, the soil/compost temperature and moisture level is ideal due to the relatively constant jungle climate.
      So… compensating with more soil to grow in (a bigger container) will help to correct for the sub-optimal growing climates that you will encounter in locations outside of the jungle.

      Your variety:
      That is a very interesting question.

      As reference, what I have (Background):
      Myself, I have varieties that have fruit with dark purple flesh, red flesh and pink flesh.
      The dragon fruit cactus that I am growing don’t need a separate pollinator plant.
      My cactus all look about the same from the outside.
      The dragon fruit cactus that I am growing only have a few tiny thorns on the branches; the thorns are about 2mm in length and are only found on the indentations of the branches (where the flowers and fruit pop out).
      The thorns are so small in size and number that I rarely notice them.

      Thorny identification:
      Overall, your cactus sounds rather different than the varieties that I have… just based on the thorns.
      Therefore, the thorns that you describe on your cactus may be the key identification.

      It sounds like you might be growing a variety that I am not familiar with.
      If you are able to send me some pics, I will post them in the article to see if someone out there might have some insight for you.

      Best,
      Tom

  6. Hi,

    I had read your story about a dragon fruit planting and I want to know how many time the dragon fruit produce fruits. I planted and guide some of them in my palm tree, cutting the tree 5 feet high. The plants are getting tall.

    Thanks

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Pepito

      Thanks for the question.
      The answer basically depends on where you live and the growing conditions.
      In the tropics, a healthy dragon fruit cactus will produce flowers and fruit all year long – continuously.
      In optimal conditions in California, I have gotten 4 rounds of fruit lasting from from the late spring to early fall.
      The healthier they are, the more fruit you get.
      They don’t produce any fruit in the winter.

      Best,
      Tom

  7. Hi Thomas

    I live in Denmark and have two dragon fruits plants and they are two years old and are still growing fast. The mean temperature is 20 celcius degrees(about 68 Fahrenheit) and in the summer the temperature is between 30 to 40 celcius degrees( about 86 to 104 fahrenheit). The dragon fruits plants are living in my apartment. It´s possible that the plants can produce flowers? they are growing very fast and they are looking very healthy.

    Best regards

    Rasmus Andersen

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Rasmus
      Thanks for the note.

      It sounds like you are doing great and should be able to get some flowers, and perhaps fruit.
      However the high end of the temps in the 40C/1004F range is getting a bit hot.
      Follow the suggestions in the article (soil, water, etc) and you should be in great shape.
      Please keep us informed.

      Best of luck!
      T

  8. Dear Thomas,
    do you know how to encourage the dragon fruit to have flowers earlier by using plant hormone? In my country, Vietnam, someone said that using cytokine to spray and dip into flower bud will give early flowers. Can you help me in this situation?
    Thank you!
    kind regards,
    ly pham

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Chào Ly Pham

      Thank you for your question.
      There are many chemical treatments that can simulate plants to do different things.
      However, I grow my dragon fruit organically.
      Therefore, I have not tried to chemically stimulate my plants to flower or fruit.

      Perhaps another reader would have some experience to share on the topic.

      Best,
      Tom

  9. Hi Thomas
    I have a dragon fruit tree for more than ten year. This year is the first year that I get 2 flower I wonder why it take so long for the pants I live in San Jose may be the weather in not hot enough to have flower
    Regards
    Lan

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Lan
      Great (and popular) question.
      The answer depends on a lot of factors.

      For example:
      If you have grown your cactus from seeds it may take longer to get flowers. I have heard that it can take up to 7 years to get fruit… (I havent confirmed that myself, just what I have heard).
      On the other hand, I have personally gotten new branch cuttings to flower in just one year.
      To do this, I have followed the techniques outlined in the articles on this site.

      Hope this helps.
      Best,
      Tom

  10. Hey Doc,
    I have had (white fleshed) Dragon Fruit for many years and have had no problem getting flowers and fruit. Also have a purple and a red variety. The purple one gets lots of flowers and then the fruit aborts. I have gotten only two fruits this year. They were listed as self pollinating on the site. One was a good size (the one I pollinated) the other was very small. I have pollinated some since, and nothing. The red one I am just having a hard time getting it large enough to plant. Why are these purple fruits aborting and why is it so hard to grow the red? All are in the same type of container with the same soil and get the same organic fertilizer (rabbit manure and green sand). Can’t figure this one out. Appreciate the help.
    Peace,
    Lori

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Lori
      That is an interesting situation.
      Few thoughts off the top of my head.

      Are all the cacti the same age?
      Cacti grown from seed can take up to 7y to fruit.

      Do all your cacti look the same? Do any have spots or markings on them to make you think disease?
      This article (link below) may help to specifically identify a Dragon Fruit disease.
      Dragon Fruit Diseases

      Are they all in the same location?
      For example, I have heard that porch lights left on at night can throw off Dragon Fruits nighttime flowering clock.
      Is one plant more shaded than another?

      it is possible that pics of ur plants might help.

      Best,
      Tom

  11. My dragon fruit plant after three years just grew three buds and flowered. Then they dried up and fell off. Do the fruit grow from the flower or do they create a new bud that turns into fruit?

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