Cultivation: Hylocereus are not tough cacti to cultivate: put them in light shade, keep them at mild temperatures and provide them a well-draining but rich in organic matter soil.
Curiosity: Its name comes from Greek and literally means “woody candle”, to indicate the appearance and the columnar habit of its stems, up to 30 centimeters long and often tending to become climbing or creeping.
Hylocereus is a genus of cacti native to Central America, in particular Mexico. It includes 14 species of cacti, some of them epiphytic and lithophytic, cultivated either as ornamental plants and as edible plants: we’re talking, in particular, about H. undatus, the “Pitahaya”, an epiphytic cacti that produces edible, red fruits. An epiphytic plant is a plant growing on the trunk of trees or other plants. These kind of plants are equipped with aerial roots, which are special kinds of roots adapted to absorb water from the humidity of the air and nutrients from the little soil trapped in the crevices of the barks. A lithophytic plant, instead, is a plant adapted to grow upon the rocks.
Hylocereus is present in a wide range of altitudes: from the sea level to almost 3000 meters above the sea level! Its habitat are tropical deciduous forests, thorn scrubs and forests, and riparian vegetation. The edible species of Hylocereus (especially H. undatus) have been cultivated for their fruits for a long time and are now naturallized all over the world.
Hylocereus are not the typical cacti that we are used to see, with the typical, candelabra-shaped erect stems and the spines. They instead have triangular, bright green stems with 3 prominent ribs, whose edges are lobed and wavy. The stems are often slender, long and falling: they don’t give the impression to belong to a cactus at all: they are more similar to the stems of a vine.
Hylocereus are cacti of variable dimensions: they can be from a few tens of centimeters high to one to two meters high. Between the lobes, there are the areoles, small and not so visible (the areoles are the typical, button-shaped, usually white buds of Cactaceae), from which short, inconspicuous spines grow.
Another reason why they are so popular in cultivation is their extremely beautiful flowers: rather wider than the stems, adorned by a calyx of abundant, yellowish-green sepals that look like big wigs (the sepals are structures similar to both leaves and petals, which form the calyx, that is the green part at the base of any flower which bears the corolla, namely the part with the petals). They are usually white however their colour can range from whitish-yellow to red according to the species, with numerous, crowded petals. In many species, they open at night and they last only one night. Their natural pollinators are bats.
The fruits have a peculiar aspect: in H. undatus, the famous “Pitahaya” or “Dragonfruit”, the fruits look like fleshy flames: they are in fact red, with a globose base and numerous, wing-shaped flattened structures that form a tuft at the top of the fruits. The inner part of the fruit instead consists in a white pulp, filled with very numerous and small, black seeds.
VARIETY AND TYPES
Here below are the accepted species of Hylocereus.
- H. calcaratus
- H. costaricensis
- H. extensus
- H. lemairei
- H. megalanthus
- H. microcladus
- H. minutiflorus
- H. monacanthus
- H. ocamponis
- H. purpusii
- H. schomburgkii
- H. setaceus
- H. stenopterus
- H. trigonus
- H. undatus
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TIPS FOR GROWING
Hylocereus are not tough to cultivate. Here below are our cultivation tips:
- It requires an exposition to full sun or partial shade, as long as it receives plenty of light during all seasons. We suggest to put it in the shade only if you are from a really hot climate.
- It prefers mild temperatures, though it survives also at temperatures around 0ºC, if the soil is kept dry.
- Water moderately, only when the soil is completely dry. Water once a week in spring and summer, then reduce to once every two months in Autumn and suspend completely in winter.
- A well draining soil is ok, even better if further enriched by inert materials such as pumice, sand or lapillus. Being an epiphytic cactus, we advice also to add some organic material to your compost.
- They do not need frequent fertilizing, it will be sufficient to dilute fertilizer with the water of watering once a year.
The propagation of these cacti is usually carried out through stem cuttings. Sowing is rarely used. If you choose to sow as a propagation method, put the seeds in a well-drained compost and keep the pot at 17-21ºC. The seeds will require at least 15-30 days to germinate.