August 11, 2011

Pitaya roja (Hylocereus undatus)

Hylocereus ocamponis Britt. & Rose, Pityaya Roja
Pitaya roja (Hylocereus undatus)

I'm on a roll here with the blog articles, like the good old days. ;-)

I have a backload of literally thousands of photos. Looking through them the other day, I realized that part of what has been holding me back is feeling like I need to know the official names and must be able to tell you everything about the plant or thing or place. I'm going to try to put that aside and let you readers tell me more if I don't know.

Hylocereus undatusIn this case, however, I was able to find this fruit in my book, Frutales y Condimentarias del Trópico Húmedo (Fruits and Condiments of the Humid Tropics) from CURLA, the agricultural university here in La Ceiba. Neither El Jefe nor Arexy were any help at all. It turns out that this is a cactus fruit! This photo of the night blooming cactus (Hylocereus undatus) is from Wikipedia. It is native to Mexico and Central America.


If you are interested in growing fruit trees or other fruit plants in the north coast of Honduras, I highly recommend this book (in Spanish only). One review calls it a "A bible for any tropical fruit enthusiast".It can be purchased for around $20 at CURLA, and while you are there, you can buy several types of small fruit trees and a few other plants for around L. 20 each (about US $1). I haven't been there in quite awhile but we were able to get some good info as well as a tour of their trial orchard in which we were able to get a better idea of what the full grown trees would be like.

For each of the 150 or so fruits covered, the book has a page of photos of the plant, blossom, fruit, and full grown tree and another page (sometimes two) of information, including the scientific and common names, the origin of the plant, description, preferred climate and soil type, propagation, planting and management, recommended varieties, age and length of time for production, the season and quantity of harvest, and the insect and disease problems that may occur. My only quarrel with the book is it's organization. Even the index is not in alphabetical order, making it very difficult to look anything up.


Dragon Fruit juice
So beautiful it's hard to believe the color is natural!

Hylocereus undatus, pitaya rojaAnyway, back to the pitaya roja. El Jefe bought it at the market at the recommendation of the vendor, who said it made a delicious juice and that one fruit would make a large quantity of juice. Neither J nor Arexy had ever had it before. The book says that it is not cultivated in Honduras, but that the fruits are sometimes gathered and sold from the forests. The fruit can be scooped and eaten from a spoon, seeds and all.

Some of the common names for the fruit are Pitahaya (Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico), Flor de Cáliz (Puerto Rico), and Reina de la Noche (also Mexico). In English, I found that it is sometimes called Dragon Fruit or Strawberry Pear. A white-fruited variety may be more common, and Fruits of Warm Climates indicates that this red variety is actually H. ocamponis Britt. & Rose.

Upon cutting it open, we were surprised to see the almost beet-like interior — beet-like in the finger staining aspects as well. The fruit was much softer than I expected and full of small black seeds. Arexy mashed and strained the pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds, and then used the blender. She added a little sugar and water. She made almost a half-gallon pitcher of juice from this one fruit.

Hylocereus ocamponis, Dragon FruitWe thought the flavor tasted a little bland even before we made the juice, but that may have been because we kept it around for a few days before we made the juice or maybe Arexy added too much water based on the vendor's claim. But the vibrant color made up for the flavor! What a beautiful drink. We found the flavor was improved with the addition of a little lemon juice.

Would I try it again? Definitely. But only if it is available in the market; I won't be growing any spiny cactus here.

References if you are interested in learning more about the Pitaya:

National Tropical Botanical Garden
Fruits of Warm Climates
University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service

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