Gallery: How Does Your Dragon Fruit Grow?

A Dragon Fruit Cactus
A Dragon Fruit Cactus

The Hylocereus is a vine-y cactus native to Central and South America, but is now cultivated extensively throughout Southeast Asia for sweet, bright pink pitaya, commonly referred to as dragon fruit.

A Dragon Fruit Plantation in Vietnam
A Dragon Fruit Plantation in Vietnam

This plantation is one of many we passed along the central Vietnamese coast.

Dragon Fruit Bud
Dragon Fruit Bud

I was blown away when I saw how they actually grow. Pitaya flowers open only at night, and only last a single night before wilting and dying, so there's only a small window of time for cross-fertilization of the flowers between pitaya plants by bats and insects.

Once successfully fertilized, each fruit starts out as a pale green bud.

Bud Expanding
Bud Expanding

The bud slowly swells and expands, spreading its "scales" apart.

Mature Fruit
Mature Fruit

Eventually, it takes on a pinkish tinge (or yellowish, depending on the variety), and it's ready to harvest and consume.

Ready to Eat
Ready to Eat

Dragon fruit has an edible central fleshy area beneath a relatively thin skin. The flesh is wet and slightly granular with many black seeds, sort of like a cross between a kiwifruit and a watermelon in texture. The flavor is mildly sweet, with a floral aroma. If you can get your hands on some, it's an awesome between-courses snack to cleanse your palate and refresh yourself.