Complete Guide to Pitahaya and all its Exotic Traits

Have you ever seen a scaled fruit? Well, let’s talk about the pitahaya or dragon fruit, an exotic fruit found all over the world thanks to its ability to adapt easily to different environments.

In this blog you’ll learn:

  • What is pitahaya?
  • What types of pitahaya are there?
  • What pitahaya is good for?
  • where does pitahaya come from?
  • Why is pitahaya also called dragon fruit?
  • Where is pitahaya grown?
  • How does pitahaya grow?
  • Which products are made from pitahaya?
  • and many other facts that we know you’ll love.

Table of Contents

What is pitahaya and what are its characteristics? 

Scientific nameHylocereus spp. Selenicereus spp.
Common namePitahaya, pitaya, and dragon fruit, among others.
Place of OriginCentral and South America
HabitatTropical and subtropical regions
DistributionWarm-climate zones worldwide

Pitahaya belongs to the Cactaceae family, that is, this exotic fruit comes from a cactus. Dragon fruits are climbing cacti and are so called because they cannot stand on their own, therefore, they grow among rocks, on trees, or even on walls or trellises.

So, what is this plant like? Below you’ll learn a little more about all its botanical and morphological characteristics.

Characteristics of the pitahaya plant 

Pitahaya roots 

This type of cactus has fibrous aerial roots. It is composed of primary or main roots, which consist of two or more thick roots anchored to the ground between 5 to 25 cm underground.

The secondary roots develop aerially from this part of the plant to support the plant. Normally, pitahaya crops need rocks, logs or wire trellises so that the roots can serve as anchors.

In addition, the roots serve to absorb water and nutrients from their environment and maintain vitality.

Pitahaya stem

The stem of this plant is formed by cladodes. Let me explain, they are a type of stem or branch that replaces the leaves: they are usually flattened, triangular and have a fairly compact and hard bark.

In turn, the cladodes have aureoles which are small dots where 2-3 thorns grow on the cactus. The aureoles with their spines are distributed along the cladodes at 4 cm distances between each one.

The spines are dead tissue that serves as a protective shield against animals, strong radiation and low-humidity environments such as deserts. However, cactaceous plants have rather small spines or sometimes no spines at all because they grow in jungles.

The cladodes perform photosynthesis like ordinary leaves, they open their stomata at night, which allows the plant to breathe. During the day, the stems lose water as a result of the warm climates in which they grow. It’s for this reason that they do so during this period of the day as a method of physiological adaptation.

Pitahaya flowers 

This fruit’s flowers are called “the queens of the night”, and the main reason is that, as the phrase indicates, they open only at night following the moonlight direction and close in the early hours of the morning. Incredible, isn’t it?

Additionally, they are large in size with a length of about 20 to 40 cm and up to 25 cm in diameter. They can be white, yellow or pink in color.

Pitahaya fruits 

This fruit is a berry because it has a fleshy pulp inside with small seeds. They are oval in shape and can measure 8 to 15 cm long and 6 to 10 cm in diameter.

Pitahayas are wrapped in a shell or bark with scales or mammules that make them look quite exotic, and depending on the variety they are more or less developed. In addition, the color of the bark will also change depending on the type of pitahaya.

The seeds are small, about 4 to 6 mm long. When the fruit is unripe, they are brown and when ripe they are black, despite being between the pulp they are imperceptible to the palate.

Types of pitahaya 

The different types of pitahayas are differentiated by the fruit color both in its shell and pulp, the shape of the stems, and the size, among other characteristics. Here are some of them.

Yellow Pitahaya (Selenicereus megalanthus

This type of pitahaya is native to South America, specially cultivated in Colombia for both local consumption and export. The stems or cladodes are thin and wavy, the flower is white at the bottom and yellow at the top and is similar to a bell.  

As its name suggests, this variety has yellow skin with small thorns, is oval and can be up to 12 cm long. The pulp is white or translucent with small black seeds and has a pleasant sweet flavor.

Pitahaya Hana (Hylocereus monacanthus

This variety was found on the road called Hana on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The stems of this pitahaya differ from others by having long spines with slender diameters. The flowers have a pink base that fades to a white shade at the top.

Its skin is dark pink and the flesh is white with black seeds. They are small but have been reported to weigh up to 1 pound. The taste is sweet and can be compared to melon.

Zebra (Hylocereus polyrhizus

This variety is native to Nicaragua, being one of the most commercialized in the country. Its stems are wide and green with small gray lines that allow the plant to protect itself from heat and cold, which is why it was named “zebra”.

This type of pitahaya is large, can weigh more than 300 grams, and has red skin and pulp and a very sweet flavor.

Grullo (Hylocereus ocamponis x

Native to a municipality called El Grullo in the state of Jalisco in Mexico, hence its name. Its stems are thick and short and have small thorns. Its flowers are white with yellow and intense red spots.

The Grullo is a pitahaya with red skin and dark green “fins or scales” that protrude. The pulp is also deep red with black seeds. Although this fruit is also sweet, it is said to have beet-like flavors.

American Beauty (Hylocereus guatemalensis

This species of pitahaya comes from or originated in Guatemala. The stems of this variety are medium-sized, thin, with curved or oval shapes on their sides and thornless.

Its skin is green and pink, and its pulp is exotic due to its intense pink color close to fuchsia. It can weigh from one-half to one pound and is intensely sweet.

Queen of the night (Selenicereus grandifloras

This fruit was first found in the 18th century and originates from the West Indies region, the United States, Mexico and Central America. These fruits are quite rare and not easily found in cultivation.

The skin is fuchsia-purple with prominent spots that have small thorns. Its pulp is white with small black seeds. Like the others, it has a sweet taste, but sour flavors when harvested at an immature stage.

Other varieties of pitahaya 

The pitahaya has countless varieties. Some of these are:

  • Maria Rosa (hylocereus undatus x hylocereus guatemalensis).
  • Red-fleshed (Hylocereus polyrhizus)
  • Costarican pitaya (Holycereus costaricensis)
  • Valdivia Red (Holycereus ocamponis)
  • American beauty (Hylocereus guatemalensis)
  • White-fleshed (Hylocereus undatus)
  • Thornless (Hylocereus sp.)
  • Seoul Kitchen (Hylocereus undatus)

Benefits and properties of pitahaya 

Pitahaya Nutritional Information 

To help you better understand the benefits of this fruit, here is a nutritional table for 100 grams of pitahaya.

InformationAmountPercentage of the Recommended Daily Amount
Calories54 gr2,8 %
Carbohydrates13,2 gr4,2 %
Proteins1,4 gr2,9 %
Fiber0,5 gr1,7 %
Fats0,10,2 %
Sodium00 %
Calcium100,8 %
Iron1,316,3 %
Magnesium00 %
Phosphorus263,7 %
Potassium00 %
Vitamin B130,20 %
Vitamin C2527,8 %

Taken from Vegaffinity

Benefits of pitahaya that you didn’t know about 

Antioxidant effect 

Pitahayas have a component called betacyanins that have an antioxidant and anti-degenerative effect on the human body.

Foods with antioxidant components are capable of preventing oxidation in the body, caused mainly by the accumulation of free radicals in the cells causing damage to molecules related to oxidative stress in the body. This can increase the risk of arthritis, and anemia, among other diseases.

Pitahaya contains phenolic and polyphenol compounds that fight against free radicals, thus preventing diseases such as cancer-related to hormonal problems or also helping the body fight bacteria that enter the body.

It helps against obesity and diabetes 

It’s been proven that this fruit can help decrease weight gain and additionally, it helps with insulin resistance. A high intake of this fruit can lower blood glucose, helping people with diabetes problems.

Soluble fiber for digestion 

Pitahayas have soluble fibers that can help prevent constipation and cancer of the large intestine. This happens mainly because they promote good digestion and regulate food metabolization.

Pitahaya has soluble fiber that prolongs the feeling of satiety and therefore delays gastric emptiness. This prevents the small intestine from releasing sugar, meaning that pitahaya can help people who are unable to consume different foods due to diseases such as diabetes.

Effective against anemia problems 

Pitahaya contains essential properties for the body such as iron, vitamin E, B12, thiamine, and riboflavin. These components, combined with vitamin C, help your body efficiently absorb the amount of iron needed for blood production, thus helping to improve or prevent anemia.

Promotes collagen production 

The vitamin C content of this fruit can also help to beautify the skin, making it look healthy because this vitamin promotes the production of collagen in the body, also preventing premature aging. In addition, it helps to protect your eyesight, preventing the appearance of cataracts or glaucoma in the eyes.

Other benefits of pitahaya 

Pitahayas contain other components such as magnesium that contribute to the proper functioning of muscles and nerves and even strengthen the immune system.

It also has a high water content that allows the body to stay hydrated and to more easily eliminate fluid retention.

Pitahaya contains captin, a component found in the seeds of the fruit pulp, which can help the heart to function properly when consumed regularly.

In addition, it contains other components such as phosphorus, calcium and squalene, which can help to:

  • Strengthen bones and teeth
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Help reduce blood pressure levels
  • Have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body
  • Prevent kidney stones

History and origin of pitahaya 

It is said that pitahaya is a fruit that originated in Central and South America. It is used since pre-Columbian times as pitahayas were collected from wild plants and used for food, as a medicinal plant to treat different conditions or to make products of that time.

In the 16th century, the Spaniards introduced these fruits in the Philippines; in the year 1645 it was introduced in China; then the Dutch dispersed it to Taiwan in the year 1654.

Pitahaya arrived in Hawaii in 1830; it is believed that this was by means of a shipment of plants that were being sent from Mexico and were destined for China. Many of the plants they were taking were dying, and for this reason, they discarded them, but pitahaya was the only one that survived so they decided to plant it in the Hawaiian Islands.

The French were responsible for introducing this fruit in Vietnam in the 19th century. During the Vietnam War, it is said that the Americans fumigated many crops in that country causing the death of a large number of plants; however, pitahaya was able to survive.

The fruit spread to different warm regions around the world and is cultivated in various parts of the world such as Brazil, Australia, the United States, Cuba, countries of the African continent, and the Canary Islands, among many others.

The legend about pitahaya  that you need to know

Pitahaya is also called “dragon fruit” in many parts of the world, but do you know why it is so called? Let me explain, the whole term comes from the following Asian legend.

The story tells that thousands of years ago this fruit was created from the fire that came out of the mouths of dragons. When soldiers fought these animals, the last thing to come out of the dragon’s breath was pitahayas.

The soldiers would collect these fruits to take them to the emperor as a symbol of their victory. Then, after having killed the dragon, they would consume the animal’s flesh as they believed that by doing so they would be endowed with the dragon’s strength and ferocity.

Thanks to the external appearance of the fruit, they named it this way since the shell, having “scales”, resembles the skin of a dragon.

Pitahaya industry worldwide 

The 5 countries that most produce pitahaya 

World production of pitahaya is centered in tropical or subtropical areas and, although it is grown in many parts of the world, the largest producer of the fruit is the Asian continent. The countries that produce most of this fruit are:

1. Vietnam 

Vietnam is the largest producer of pitahaya, contributing 50% of the world’s total production. In concrete numbers, the world produces more than 2.1 million tons, the Vietnamese produce more than 1 million tons.

In 2000 they planted an area of 5,512 hectares, and now this figure is more than 55,000 hectares, mainly located in the regions of:

RegionRepresentation in percentages of national production
Binh Thuan55,11 %
Long An24,51 %
Tiene Giang15,04 %

2. China 

China is the second largest producer of pitahaya with more than 700 thousand tons of pitahaya, accounting for 32.8% of world production.

Its cultivation area is very close to Vietnam’s, with just over 50,000 hectares. The province of Guangxi is one of the regions with the highest concentration of pitahaya crops, with 12,000 hectares dedicated to pitahaya crops alone. Other provinces in which it is highly cultivated are Guangdong, Yunnan, Hainan, and Guizhou.

3. Indonesia 

Pitahaya began to be cultivated in this country in 2000, and since then the industry of this fruit has grown to the point of being the third largest producer. With 221,832 tons of pitahaya, they account for 10.4% of the world’s total production.

They have more than 8,400 hectares dedicated to pitahaya cultivation, in the province of East Java; more specifically the state or district of Banyuwangi, is one of the regions where the fruit is produced the most because they have an area of 5,841 hectares planted. It is also present in other islands of the country such as Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Bali, among others.

The fruit also used to be quite cultivated in the regions of East Kalimantan, Padang Parianam district, and Batam Island; however, most crops are mostly damaged by different reasons such as stem canker disease that can kill the plants making them unproductive.

4. Taiwan 

Although Taiwan has only 2,491 hectares of pitahaya crops, they are the fourth largest producer in the world, manufacturing more than 49,000 tons of fruit which accounts for 2.3% of world production.

Pitahaya is grown all over Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, but Pingtung County is one of the regions where it is harvested the most, accounting for 15.2% of national production.

5. Thailand 

Finally, the Thais produce around 26,000 tons of pitahaya accounting for 1.2% of the world’s production of this fruit. They have 3,482 hectares devoted to pitahaya cultivation.

The regions where it is most harvested are the lowlands around Bangkok, in the highlands of Phu Ruea district, and in Loei province.

Which countries export the most pitahaya? 


Vietnam, besides being the largest producer, is also the largest exporter. It ships pitahaya to more than 40 countries around the world; however, its preferred market is in Asia, the United States and Europe. The Vietnamese are positioned as the leading suppliers in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Europe and the United States market 

In Europe, the main suppliers of dragon fruit are Israel, Colombia, Vietnam, Ecuador and Thailand. Similarly, Ecuador and Mexico are Vietnam’s competitors in the U.S. market, as they have advantages related to their geographical position that facilitate exports.


Exports of yellow pitahaya in Colombia are growing. Between 2018 and 2019, they sent this fruit mainly to Brazil and Hong Kong; in 2020, their major destination was the Netherlands in Europe. Likewise, its exports are growing in Ukraine, the United States, and Belgium.

China is one of the largest importers of pitahaya 

Pitahaya is widely consumed in Asian countries. China is one of the largest consumers of this fruit, mainly related to its culture and beliefs. Due to factors such as its shape, color, and name “dragon fruit”, it is associated with the attraction of good luck.

And not only this, pitahaya is traditionally used to make a sacrificial offering to the gods or ancestors of Chinese families. At the same time, it is used in traditional festivals or celebrations such as the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival.

China imports around 80 to 85 % of its pitahaya production from Vietnam. In fact, China is the third largest importer of different types of fruit in the world. However, since 2020 due to the pandemic caused by Covid-19, China reduced the amount of its Vietnamese pitahaya imports by 40%.

How is pitahaya cultivated? 


Although pitahaya adapts very well to different environments, there are certain aspects that must be taken into account. The temperature should be between 20 to 30 °C, at the most, it can withstand 38 °C, as temperatures higher than this can negatively affect the plant.

In addition, cold can cause great damage to the plant since it cannot withstand temperatures below zero for long periods; it can normally survive short frosts.

Sun exposure 

This type of cactus should have partial shade as too much of it can significantly affect stem growth and flowering which could have results such as low fruit productivity.

Similarly, care should be taken when exposing them to solar radiation because it can affect the fruits, making them smaller and of less quality.

Rainfall and wind 

The plant has morphological characteristics that allow it to use water efficiently. For this reason, it tolerates areas with dry climates and low rainfall of 600 to 1500 mm per year because it adapts to low amounts of water.

This doesn’t rule out that they can grow in regions where rainfall is between 1500 and 3500 mm per year, as in some regions of Costa Rica; however, the large rainfall amounts can cause the plant to rot, causing the stems and flowers to die.

Winds should not be strong; although they don’t directly affect the cactus, strong air currents can damage the supports on which the pitahaya is anchored.


Pitahayas can be grown at altitudes between 0 to 2000 m.a.s.l., but in some cases, it can be grown at heights around 2500 m.a.s.l. The optimum altitude for the plant to be productive is between 700 to 1900 meters above sea level.


This fruit adapts very well to different types of soil, but clay loams or sandy loams are recommended. The soil should have a good amount of organic matter or contain manure. And well-drained soil will allow all the nutrients to vitalize the plant.

Pitahaya propagation 

There are 4 main methods to propagate pitahaya:

1. Seed sowing

Seed propagation is beneficial in the aspect that growers get different genetic data from the plants.

The seed, after being cultivated, will germinate in 4 to 5 days; after a month it can reach a height of 20 to 30 cm and it is at this time that it can be grafted. This process is slow because these seeds will start to produce approximately from the third year.

2. Sowing by cuttings 

This propagation method consists of removing one of the stems or cladodes measuring between 20 to 50 cm. The most important thing is to ensure that they are healthy and free of diseases or pests. The seeded stem will generate roots more quickly, and it is also the simplest and most economical method of propagating pitahaya.

3. Propagation by grafting 

This method consists of joining more than one piece of the plant to another that is further developed, that is, in the future, this set of plants will grow as one.

This method is useful because it helps the pitahaya to grow quickly, obtains specimens with showy and different fruits, and allows them to grow resistant directly from the ground, etc.

4. In vitro propagation 

It consists of taking a part of the plant, in this case it could be a stem or cladode, and introducing it into a glass container in which an artificial environment is created so that it grows healthy and vigorous. This also allows to increase in the genetic diversity of the pitahaya, generating more species of fruit.

Pitahaya harvesting 

Harvesting according to destination 

The moment to harvest pitahayas will depend on their destination. If they are for export, they should be harvested while still immature so that they can withstand long journeys and arrive in good condition. If the pitahayas are for national distribution, they can be harvested when they are a little more mature.

Cutting the pitahaya 

They should be harvested using scissors, by making two “v” shaped cuts in the pitahaya stem, to avoid damaging the fruit. It must be held very carefully because pressing too hard will damage the fruit, increasing the risk of tearing the peel and impeding its export.

Pitahaya maturation 

Pitahayas begin to ripen 30 to 40 days after pollination of the flower and each plant can bear 3 to 5 units. The perfect time of the day for harvesting is in the morning because the fruit shells are cold and thus have better conditions.

Post-harvest and preservation of pitahaya 

The following 4 stages must be taken into account:

1. Classification 

First, the pitahayas are classified depending on their shape, color, weight, and size. Fruits that are damaged should be set aside because they cannot withstand handling and transport.

2. Pre-cooling 

Then, they go through a pre-cooling process in which they are immersed in clean cold water, at around 5 °C. This is done in order to slow down the ripening processes and should be done as soon as possible after harvesting.

3. Drying 

Generally, they are to be dried in the open air after being disinfected. They are then stored in plastic, wooden or cardboard boxes or any other material that protects the fruit from external contamination. For export, they should be packed according to the standards required by each country.

4. Conservation 

For their conservation, they must be stored in cold storage rooms with a humidity of 72 to 92% and temperatures between 10 to 12 °C.

Which products are made from pitahaya? 

Handmade pitahaya products 

Pitahaya is an exotic fruit used in many homes around the world to make homemade products such as:

  • Pitahaya marshmallow
  • Pitahaya honey
  • Pitahaya cheese
  • Pure pitahaya juice
  • Desserts
  • Pitahaya wine
  • Pitahaya sauce
  • Jellies
  • Creams
  • Jellies
  • Jams
  • Among others

Industrial products based on pitahaya 

Dehydrated pitahaya 

To make this type of product, pitahayas are peeled and cut into small slices. Afterward, they are placed in an oven to undergo the dehydration process using hot air.

It is said that 100 gr of dehydrated pitahaya can substitute about 4 pitahayas. Many companies manufacture this product in a natural way, without adding preservatives or sugar in order to satisfy consumer demands.

Pitahaya yogurts 

Several countries make yogurts based on pitahaya which vary in their ingredients content. For example, some include probiotics, fiber, pieces of fruit, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, among other components that vary according to the brand of the product.

Consuming this type of yogurt has several benefits, for instance, they help regulate the digestive system, restore the intestinal flora, reduce problems such as constipation, reduce cholesterol, and are a rich source of calcium and proteins, etc.

Other types of industrial products based on pitahaya that you can find in the market are:

  • Energy bars
  • Ice cream
  • Juices
  • Frozen pulp
  • Pitahaya vinegar
  • Pitahaya Flaxseed
  • Pitahaya fruit bars
  • Pies
  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Preserves
  • Soft drinks
  • Pitahaya water containing electrolytes and vitamins
  • Among others

Pitahaya-based cosmetic products 

Some companies make skin care products, cosmetics, or hygiene products based on pitahaya. This is due to its benefits such as the ability to regenerate and soothe skins that have suffered sunburns, prevent and help treat irritation, protect the skin from the sun’s rays, as well as being an ally for skin with acne, among others.

For example, the pitahaya seed oil is an innovative product that can moisturize and nourish the skin, treat and prevent expression lines, reduce swelling, promote elasticity or nourish the scalp.

Other products containing this fruit are:

  • Reparative lotions
  • Fragrances or perfumes
  • Facial masks
  • Exfoliating scrubs
  • Moisturizing creams


Pitahayas, as you saw, are strange fruits that have been gaining popularity in the world market, especially due to their botanical characteristics and their numerous benefits.

Now you know a little more about pitahayas, we hope that with this information you’ll be encouraged to buy them the next time you see them in the supermarket and that with their consumption you will get the most out of them.