Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Hylocereus undatus
(dragon fruit)

Rojas-Sandoval J and Praciak A, 2020. Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit). Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CABI. DOI:10.1079/ISC.27317.20203483368

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Datasheet

Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 20 April 2020
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Hylocereus undatus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • dragon fruit
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Hylocereus undatus is a vine-like cactus that is often grown as a night-flowering ornamental plant and as a fruit crop. The fruit is highly decorative, with a bright red skin, studded with green scales. The flesh is white, juicy and delic...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall and into a tree canopy. Haleakala Ranch, Makawao, Hawaii. February 2012.
TitleHabit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall and into a tree canopy. Haleakala Ranch, Makawao, Hawaii. February 2012.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall and into a tree canopy. Haleakala Ranch, Makawao, Hawaii. February 2012.
HabitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall and into a tree canopy. Haleakala Ranch, Makawao, Hawaii. February 2012.©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.
TitleHabit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2007- CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.
HabitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.©Forest & Kim Starr-2007- CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.
TitleHabit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.
HabitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); habit, in its invasive form, scrambling over a wall. Keokea, Hawaii, USA. March, 2007.©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); foliage. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.
TitleFoliage
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); foliage. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); foliage. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.
FoliageHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); foliage. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
TitleFlower
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2002 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
FlowerHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.©Forest & Kim Starr-2002 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); edge of leaflet, showing groups of three, short, spines. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
TitleEdge of leaflet
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); edge of leaflet, showing groups of three, short, spines. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2002 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); edge of leaflet, showing groups of three, short, spines. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
Edge of leafletHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); edge of leaflet, showing groups of three, short, spines. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.©Forest & Kim Starr-2002 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); spent flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
TitleFlower
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); spent flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2002 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); spent flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.
FlowerHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); spent flower and foliage. Hawaii, USA. February, 2002.©Forest & Kim Starr-2002 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); remnants of flower, with developing fruit. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.
TitleDeveloping fruit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); remnants of flower, with developing fruit. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); remnants of flower, with developing fruit. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.
Developing fruitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); remnants of flower, with developing fruit. Kula Agriculture Park, Hawaii, USA. June, 2012.©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruit and leaf. Maui, Hawaii, USA. September, 2012.
TitleFruit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruit and leaf. Maui, Hawaii, USA. September, 2012.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruit and leaf. Maui, Hawaii, USA. September, 2012.
FruitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruit and leaf. Maui, Hawaii, USA. September, 2012.©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits; whole, sectioned, pulp removed.
TitleFruit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits; whole, sectioned, pulp removed.
Copyright©Bff/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits; whole, sectioned, pulp removed.
FruitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits; whole, sectioned, pulp removed.©Bff/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits on plant.
TitleFruit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits on plant.
Copyright©Noel's House 035/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits on plant.
FruitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruits on plant.©Noel's House 035/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruiting habit. (38 days post-flowering).
TitleFruiting habit
CaptionHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruiting habit. (38 days post-flowering).
Copyright©Tominiko974/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0
Hylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruiting habit. (38 days post-flowering).
Fruiting habitHylocereus undatus (dragon fruit); fruiting habit. (38 days post-flowering).©Tominiko974/via wikipedia - CC BY-SA 3.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Hylocereus undatus (Haw.) Britton & Rose

Preferred Common Name

  • dragon fruit

Other Scientific Names

  • Cereus tricostatus Rol.-Gosselin
  • Cereus trigonus var. guatemalensis Eichlam
  • Cereus undatus Pfeiff.
  • Cereus undulatus D. Dietr.
  • Hylocereus guatemalensis (Eichlam) Britton & Rose
  • Hylocereus tricostatus Gosselin (Britton & Rose (1909)

International Common Names

  • English: belle of the night; night-blooming cereus; pitahaya; queen of the night; red pitahaya; strawberry pear
  • Spanish: pitahaya blanca; pitahaya dulce; pitahaya roja
  • French: fruit du dragon; pitahaya rouge; pitaya
  • Chinese: liang tian chi
  • Portuguese: cardo-ananaz; cato-barse

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: pitaya vermelha de polpa branca
  • Cuba: flor de cáliz; pitahaya
  • Germany: Distelbirne; Drachenfrucht; Konigin der nacht; Rotepitahaya
  • Mexico: junco tapatio; pitahaya de cardo; pitahaya orejona
  • Puerto Rico: flor de caliz; pitahaya; pitajava; pitaya
  • Sweden: rod pitahaya; skogskaktus
  • USA/Hawaii: paninniokapunahou; papipi pua
  • Vietnam: thanh long

EPPO code

  • HCRUN (Hylocereus undatus)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Hylocereus undatus is a vine-like cactus that is often grown as a night-flowering ornamental plant and as a fruit crop. The fruit is highly decorative, with a bright red skin, studded with green scales. The flesh is white, juicy and delicious in flavour, with tiny black seeds. Its exact native range is uncertain but is considered to be in Central America. Since the late twentieth century it has been widely planted on a commercial scale as a fruit crop in many tropical regions, particularly in Vietnam and other South-East Asian countries, and has escaped widely from cultivation, become naturalized and in many instances become an invasive weed, sometimes threatening native plants and habitats. Currently it is listed as invasive in China, Australia, South Africa, Cuba, and on many islands in the Pacific Ocean (Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012; PIER, 2016; Queensland Government, 2016).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Caryophyllales
  •                         Family: Cactaceae
  •                             Genus: Hylocereus
  •                                 Species: Hylocereus undatus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The name Hylocereus undatus (Haw.) Britton & Rose was originally published in Britton’s Flora of Bermuda in 1918 (Britton, 1918). H. undatus is a climbing vine cactus species of the family Cactaceae. It is one of 15 accepted Hylocereus species native to Central and South America (while many of these species have ornamental value because of their flowers, only five are important as fruit producers).

The names of numerous genera in the Cactaceae end with the suffix ‘cereus’ as the genus Cereus was one of the first cactus genera to be described. Its name is derived from the Greek word keros or Latin cereus meaning 'wax taper', referring to the columnar habit of species in the genus. The name Hylocereus was subsequently given to the genus of similar cacti growing in woodlands, the prefix deriving from the Greek word hyle meaning a wood or forest. The specific epithet undatus is from the Latin for wavy, referring to the margins of the ribs of the plant’s stem (Eggli and Newton, 2004).

Common names such as 'dragon fruit', 'pitaya' and 'pitahaya' are generic terms which include several species of columnar and climbing cacti belonging to the Cactaceae family; they are is often applied to species other than H. undatus, and usually refer to the fruits rather than the plant.

Description

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Hylocereus undatus is a fast growing, epiphytic or xerophytic, vine-like cactus. Stems are triangular, 3-sided, although sometimes 4- or 5-sided, green, fleshy, jointed, many branched. Each stem segment has 3 flat wavy ribs and corneous margins may be spineless or have 1-3 small spines. Stems scandent, creeping, sprawling or clambering, up to 10 m long. Aerial roots, which are able to absorb water, are produced on the underside of stems and provide anchorage for stems on vertical surfaces. Flowers are 25-30 cm long, 15-17 cm wide, nocturnal, scented and hermaphroditic; however, some cultivars are self-compatible. Flowers are typically white in colour and bell shaped, stamens and lobed stigmas are cream coloured. Fruit is a fleshy berry, oblong to ovoid, up to 6-12 cm long, 4-9 cm thick, red with large bracteoles, pulp white, edible, embedded with many small black seeds. Average fruit weight is 350-400 g, although may weigh up to 900 g (Merten, 2002). 

Plant Type

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Perennial
Seed propagated
Succulent
Vegetatively propagated
Vine / climber

Distribution

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The native range of Hylocereus undatus is uncertain, mainly because it has been widely commercialized and cultivated across tropical regions of the world. Currently, it is considered native to southern Mexico, the Pacific coast of Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador (IUCN, 2016). It is now commercially cultivated and widely distributed throughout the tropics and some temperate regions, including South-East Asia, China, Israel, Africa, Australia, North America, tropical South America and the West Indies (see Distribution table for details).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 25 Feb 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes

Africa

KenyaPresentIntroducedInvasive
MalawiPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized
RéunionPresentIntroducedInvasive
RwandaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized
SeychellesPresentIntroduced
South AfricaPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasiveCategory 2 invasive in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape
TanzaniaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized
UgandaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized
ZambiaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedNaturalized

Asia

CambodiaPresentIntroduced
ChinaPresent, LocalizedIntroduced1645InvasiveIn the south
-FujianPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasiveIn the south
-GuangdongPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasiveIn the south
-GuangxiPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasiveIn the south-west
-HainanPresentIntroducedInvasive
-YunnanPresent
IndonesiaPresent
IsraelPresentIntroduced
MalaysiaPresentIntroduced
PhilippinesPresentIntroducedFirst reported: 16th century
SingaporePresentIntroduced
South KoreaPresent
Sri LankaPresent, Only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced1997Introduced as a fruit crop
TaiwanPresentIntroducedInvasive
ThailandPresentIntroduced
VietnamPresentIntroduced1860

Europe

Portugal
-MadeiraPresentIntroducedInvasive
SpainPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Balearic IslandsPresentIntroduced
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedNaturalizedCultivated and naturalized

North America

AnguillaPresentIntroduced
Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroduced
BahamasPresentIntroduced
BarbadosPresentIntroduced
BelizePresentIntroduced
Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba PresentIntroduced
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroduced
Costa RicaPresentNativeNative range uncertain but believed to include Costa Rica
CubaPresentIntroducedInvasive
CuraçaoPresentIntroduced
DominicaPresentIntroduced
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced
El SalvadorPresentNativeNative range uncertain but believed to include El Salvador
GrenadaPresentIntroduced
GuadeloupePresentIntroduced
GuatemalaPresentNativeNative range uncertain but believed to include the Pacific side of Guatemala
HaitiPresentIntroduced
HondurasPresent
JamaicaPresentIntroduced
MartiniquePresentIntroduced
MexicoPresentNativeNative range uncertain but believed to include southern Mexico
MontserratPresentIntroduced
NicaraguaPresent
PanamaPresentIntroduced
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroduced
Saint LuciaPresentIntroduced
Saint MartinPresentIntroduced
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroduced
Sint MaartenPresentIntroduced
Trinidad and TobagoPresentIntroduced
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentIntroduced
U.S. Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced
United StatesPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasiveCultivated and naturalized; listed as category II invasive in the Florida Keys
-HawaiiPresent, WidespreadIntroduced1830InvasivePresent as invasive on Hawaii, Kahoolawe, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Niihau and Oahu

Oceania

AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-New South WalesPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasiveNaturalized in coastal districts of northern New South Wales and regarded as an environmental weed
-QueenslandPresent, WidespreadIntroducedInvasiveNaturalized in south-eastern and central Queensland and regarded as an environmental weed
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced
NauruPresentIntroduced
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedInvasiveCultivated and invasive on island of Île Grand Terre
NiuePresentIntroducedInvasiveCultivated and invasive

South America

BrazilPresentIntroducedInvasiveInvades roadsides and maritime scrub as a garden escape
-AlagoasPresentIntroducedNaturalizedGrown as an ornamental but has escaped into surrounding roadsides and scrublands
-BahiaPresentIntroducedNaturalizedGrown as an ornamental but has escaped into surrounding roadsides and scrublands
-CearaPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroducedNaturalizedGrown as an ornamental but has escaped into surrounding roadsides and scrublands
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroducedNaturalizedGrown as an ornamental but has escaped into surrounding roadsides and scrublands
-ParaibaPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedNaturalizedGrown as an ornamental but has escaped into surrounding roadsides and scrublands
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedNaturalized
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedNaturalized
ChilePresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasiveInvasive on Robinson Crusoe Island in the Juan Fernández Islands off the coast of Chile
ColombiaPresentOrigin uncertain

History of Introduction and Spread

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In pre-Columbian times, Hylocereus undatus became widespread in many tropical regions of the Americas and the Caribbean through dispersal by birds and by people propagating and cultivating the species for its edible fruits. It was first introduced into the Philippines by the Spanish in the sixteenth century; in China it was first introduced in 1645 (Flora of China, 2015); and it was introduced into Indochina by the French in the 19th century (around 1860). It later became an important fruit crop throughout South-East Asia and is now cultivated widely in the tropics and subtropics (Ortiz-Hernández, 1999; Nerd et al., 2002b; Nobel, 2002). 

In many situations where it has been planted it has escaped from cultivation to become a weed and in some regions an invasive.

In South Africa, where H. undatus, which was originally introduced as an ornamental, it has category 2 invasive status, i.e., it can be grown in gardens but only with a permit (which is granted under very few circumstances). Infestations, which tend to be limited and localized, and originate mainly from escapes from homestead gardens, impact native plant communities and the local ecology (Walters et al., 2011; Invasive Species South Africa, 2015).

In Brazil, it was introduced as a garden plant and sometimes escaped into roadside areas and maritime scrub, occurring in 11 states (Taylor and Zappi, 2004; Flora do Brasil, 2019).

In Hawaii, H. undatus was introduced in 1830 apparently in a shipment from Mexico of plants bound for China; most of the plants were being discarded because they were dead, but as the H. undatus plants were still alive they were planted out. They flourished and the species was soon commonly cultivated throughout the islands as an ornamental (Morton, 1987). Nowadays, H. undatus is regarded as invasive on the islands of Hawaii, Kahoolawe, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Niihau and Oahu (Wagner et al., 1999). Naturalized populations are well established in leeward areas of Oahu and Kauai (Staples and Herbst, 2005).

In Florida, USA, H. undatus has become a weed of disturbed areas in the south and centre of the state. Although the earliest specimen was vouchered in 1962, the species was probably introduced much earlier. In the Florida Keys it is classed as a category II invasive (increasing in abundance but has not yet altered plant communities by displacing native species). Manual removal is the only control method mentioned (Hadden et al., 2005).

H. undatus is becoming widely naturalized in eastern Australia where it is regarded as an environmental weed of open woodlands, dry rainforest, riparian areas and coastal vegetation in the warmer areas. It has been recorded in south-eastern and central Queensland and in the coastal districts of northern New South Wales; it appears on local weed lists in Byron Shire in northern New South Wales and Redland Shire in south-eastern Queensland. It is usually found growing on trees as a climber or epiphyte, and can even climb up into the canopy of very tall trees where it can form massive colonies; the weight of its succulent stems can eventually bring trees down (Queensland Government, 2011).

H. undatus is cited as invasive in numerous other regions throughout the world, including: Isla Más a Tierra (Robinson Crusoe Island) off the coast of Chile (Rachel Atkinson and John Sawyer, pers. observation, 2011); Cuba (Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012); the island of Île Grand Terre in New Caledonia (MacKee, 1994); the island of Niue (Space et al., 2004); and Réunion in the Indian Ocean (Lavergne, 2006). It has been found naturalized on the Canary Islands (Global Compendium of Weeds, 2015), as well as in Andalusia in mainland Spain (Dana et al., 2005).

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of Hylocerus undatus is high, mainly because it continues to be introduced as a commercial fruit crop. For example, it was recently (1997) introduced to Sri Lanka for this reason (Gunasena et al., 2007). Wherever it is grown as a fruit crop or ornamental there is the likelihood of escape from cultivation, either through seed dispersal by birds or, because of its ability to reproduce vegetatively, through distribution or disposal of plant material. On Niue, for example, H. undatus infestations were observed mainly along roadsides, apparently planted for ornamental purposes or resulting from the dumping of viable plant material (Space et al., 2004).

Habitat

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Hylocereus undatus is a lithophyte or hemi-epiphyte tolerant of shade and, due to crassulacean acid metabolism, resistant to drought (Andrade et al., 2007a). It grows primarily in tropical dry forests and lowland tropical deciduous forest. Naturalized populations are found in tropical deciduous forest, tropical semideciduous forest, riparian vegetation, coastal forests, thorn scrub, and thorn forest (Arias Montes et al., 1997; Pérez-García et al., 2001). It is also found in disturbed areas, rocky areas, roadsides and maritime scrub (Taylor and Zappi, 2004; Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2015). In Mexico it has been found in highly heterogeneous environments, ranging from 2 to 2750 m above sea level, with annual rainfall ranging from 340 to 3500 mm and annual mean temperature ranging from 13° to 29°C (Cálix de Dios, 2004). In eastern Australia it can be found invading open woodlands, dry rainforest, riparian areas and coastal vegetation in the warmer areas (Queensland Government, 2011). In South Africa it can be found particularly in mesic, low-lying areas of KwaZulu-Natal, but also Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalArid regions Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
LittoralCoastal areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

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H. undatus is one of many alien species in Florida threatening the endangered plant species Chromolaena frustrataConsolea corallicola and Harrisia aboriginum (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013).

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

Hylocereus undatus is a diploid species and the chromosome number reported for it is 2n = 22 (Lichtenzveig et al., 2000).

Reproductive Biology

Hylocereus undatus has hermaphroditic flowers.  They open at night and in Mexico nocturnal visitors include the nectar-feeding bats Leptonycteris curasoae and Choeronycteris mexicana which are the main pollinators of this species.  Flowers remain open the next morning and are also visited and pollinated by bees.  This cactus has a mixed breeding system in which selfing and outcrossing set fruits (Valiente-Banuet et al., 2007).

Physiology and Phenology

In Mexico, flowering occurs from the end of May to the beginning of August; so production of the last flowers coincides with ripening of the first fruits. In China, the species has been recorded flowering from July to December (Flora of China, 2015). In Sri Lanka flower production is from April to November (Gunasena et al., 2007).

Longevity

Hylocereus undatus is a perennial long-lived plant. In cultivation it starts fruit production from the second year onward (Gunasena et al., 2007).

Environmental Requirements

Hylocereus undatus is a fast growing, vine-like, tropical cactus grown for its fleshy, succulent fruit. Originating in Central America, it is now cultivated in many countries with tropical and subtropical climates, including the USA (south Florida, California and Hawaii), Australia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Israel. It is frost- and chilling-sensitive and is largely produced in areas where temperatures do not exceed 38°C. Growing as a climbing cactus in shaded or semi-shaded positions under large canopies, it may be injured by extreme sunlight and can tolerate some shade; however, it is considered to be a full sunlight crop in Central and South American countries. When growing naturally, it attaches branched stems to trees or rocks via adventitious roots. Under cultivation the vine-like stems are supported by a post and trellis system. Optimum temperatures for growth are 18-25°C, with good relative humidity levels. Hylocereus undatus is tolerant of windy conditions and moderately saline soils. Like many cacti, it has a low water demand, which is related to its crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) mode of photosynthesis - uptake of CO2 occurs during the night when the stomata are open, which restricts water loss via transpiration during the heat of the day.

Horticultural Aspects

Flowers are pollinated by bats or moths; however, hand pollination is also used with self-incompatible varieties to ensure good fruit set and fruit size. This requires considerable labour input and many new commercial operations are utilising new cultivars which are self-fertile to avoid the cost of hand pollination. Many of the varieties bred in Asia are now self-compatible and will set fruit relatively easily without requiring hand pollination. The main disadvantage with many of the self-compatible varieties of dragon fruit is that the fruit is often smaller than if the flowers were cross-pollinated with pollen from a different clone or different species (Merten, 2002). This may be due to fruit weight, which is positively correlated with the number of viable seeds and dependent on pollination.

Hand pollination is carried out by removing the anthers from one flower and brushing them against the stigma of another or by collecting the pollen and using a small brush to pollinate many flowers. Commercial growers have to determine if it is worthwhile hand pollinating flowers in order to obtain a greater fruit weight, given the cost of labour and returns received for larger fruit. Often the first wave of flowers will not set fruit in self-incompatible varieties; however, a process has been developed for long-term storage of pollen which allows hand pollination whenever it is required. Pollen collected from dragon fruit flowers can be stored after drying to a moisture content of 5-10% and stored at below-freezing temperatures. Pollen can be stored in this way for 9 months and used to pollinate the first blooms of the season, resulting in an earlier and larger crop.

Commercial dragon fruit growers in Taiwan use supplemental night break lighting to increase the flowering period after the normal period of flowering has finished. Flowering is induced by breaking the dark period with lighting between 22:00 and 02:00 h, allowing off-season production from November to April. These fruits produced in the off-season often receive premium prices as they are larger and sweeter than those produced from summer crops.

Dragon fruit, while being a type of cactus, perform poorly under extremes of temperature and cannot tolerate high light and temperature. Dragon fruit plantations must be sited in frost-free areas or incorporate some form of frost protection such as greenhouse production for cooler winter climates. Dragon fruit plants will show damage at temperatures below 0°C, and also above 40-45°C as they were originally adapted to shade canopy environments. In high radiation areas, overhead shading is often installed, which also helps reduce extremely high temperatures which can limit flowering and fruit set. High radiation levels cause the plants to become bleached in appearance (caused by the destruction of chlorophyll in the stems), growth will also be retarded and plants may eventually die. However, under heavy shade the plants may become etiolated with reduced flowering and production levels. Recommendations for shading are to apply the minimal amount of shade required to prevent bleaching of the stems and ensure the plants are not water stressed as this reduces the crop’s resistance to high light damage.

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Aecidium Pathogen Leaves not specific Invasive.org (2015)
Anastrepha Herbivore Fruits/pods not specific Invasive.org (2015)
Bactrocera correcta Herbivore Fruits/pods not specific Lo and Waddell (2001)
Bactrocera dorsalis Herbivore Fruits/pods not specific Lo and Waddell (2001)
Cactus virus X Pathogen Whole plant not specific Liao et al. (2003)
Ceratitis Herbivore Fruits/pods not specific Invasive.org (2015)
Dothiorella Pathogen Fruits/pods not specific Zee et al. (2004)
Fusicoccum Pathogen Stems not specific Valencia-Botin et al. (2005)
Xanthomonas campestris Pathogen Stems not specific Zee et al. (2004)

Notes on Natural Enemies

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In Vietnam and many other dragon fruit cultivation regions, fruit flies are a major pest affecting fruit quality. Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) and guava fruit fly (B. correcta) are species that both lay eggs in fruits and the larvae can develop successfully even when the fruits are too green to eat (Lo and Waddell, 2001). Hylocereus undatus is also a host for Anastrepha and Ceratitis spp. fruit flies (Invasive.org, 2015). Aphids may infest flowers or fruits in some regions and young plants can be vulnerable to slugs and snails under damp conditions. Rabbits, squirrels, possums and similar pests have been known to feed on the lower stems and mice, rats and birds will eat ripe fruits (Merten, 2002). 

Few diseases are reported on H. undatus, although stem rot caused by Xanthomonas campestris and brown spots on fruits caused by Dothiorella occur in some production areas (Zee et al., 2004). Viruses such as Cactus virus X (CVX) have been reported on dragon fruit plants, causing symptoms such as stunted, malformed and mottled growth (Fudi-Allah et al., 1983). In Taiwan, CVX is widespread in dragon fruit orchards, with infection rates of 60-90% in many regions (Liao et al., 2003). A strain of Fusicoccum has been isolated from stems (Valencia-Botin et al., 2005), and H. undatus is also a host to a quarantine-significant rust, Aecidium sp., known from Mexico (Invasive.org, 2015).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Hylocereus undatus seed is dispersed by birds which have fed on the fruits (Invasive Species South Africa, 2015).

Accidental Introduction

As Hylocereus undatus easily propagates vegetatively, the disposal of plant material from the species can result in establishment of populations.

Intentional Introduction

The main means of introduction and dispersal is planting of Hylocereus undatus by people as a garden ornamental or for fruit production in gardens and plantations.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Escape from confinement or garden escape Yes
Garden waste disposal Yes
Horticulture Yes Yes
Ornamental purposes Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activities Yes
Host and vector organismsSeed dispersed by frugivorous birds Yes Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

In South Africa, naturalized Hylocereus undatus is believed to impact the local ecology (Invasive Species South Africa, 2015); in Florida (USA) and Cuba it is altering plant communities by displacing native species (Hadden et al., 2005; (Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012). In eastern Australia it has invaded open woodlands, dry rainforest, riparian areas and coastal vegetation in the warmer areas (Queensland Government, 2011). It grows as an epiphyte forming massive colonies and the weight of its succulent stems eventually brings trees down.

Impact on Biodiversity

In parts of the United States (i.e. Florida), non-native invasive plants, including Hylocereus undatus, pose a threat to native plant species, notably the endangered Chromolaena frustrata (Cape Sable thoroughwort), Consolea corallicola (Florida semaphore cactus) and Harrisia aboriginum (aboriginal prickly-apple). This invasive species competes with native plants for space, light, water and nutrients, and it has caused population declines in all three species. C. frustrata and C. corallicola have been extirpated from half of the islands where they occurred in the Florida Keys, and threats of competition from non-native plants and habitat loss still exist in the remaining populations. H. aboriginum has been extirpated from the northern extent of its range in Manatee County, and threats of poaching, competition from non-native plant species and habitat loss still exist in the remaining populations. Plans are proposed to remove invasive species from habitats and develop plant communities of predominately native vegetation with either no or few competitive non-native, invasive plant species (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2012, 2013).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Chromolaena frustrataUSA ESA listing as endangered speciesFloridaCompetition - monopolizing resourcesUS Fish and Wildlife Service (2013)
Consolea corallicola (Florida semaphore cactus)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered speciesFloridaCompetition - monopolizing resourcesUS Fish and Wildlife Service (2013)
Harrisia aboriginum (Aboriginal prickly-apple)NatureServe; USA ESA listing as endangered speciesFloridaCompetition - monopolizing resourcesUS Fish and Wildlife Service (2013)

Risk and Impact Factors

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Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - smothering
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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Economic value

Hylocereus undatus and related cactus species are raised commercially for fruit in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, the USA, some Caribbean islands, Spain, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Réunion, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan. It is the second most important commercial cactus species with respect to fruit production after Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear). About 6000 ha of H. undatus are cultivated in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam and 2000 ha in Mexico, with about half of the Mexicn total occurring within the Yucatan peninsula (Janick and Paull, 2008; Paull and Duarte, 2012). Plants of H. undatus are also grown as ornamentals for their large, attractive flowers and as bonsai specimens. H. undatus has also been used as a rootstock for other species of ornamental cactus because of its rapid growth and tolerance to humid substrates (Wright et al., 2007).

Social benefit

Dragon fruit has been consumed in its native countries since pre-Columbian times and is grown specifically for its fruit, the flesh of which is eaten raw and is mildly sweet and succulent; the yellow type is sweeter than the red. The fruit has a texture similar to that of the prickly pear and kiwi fruit. The flesh has high nutritional value, including high contents of vitamin C, calcium, potassium and fibre. Eating the fruits is claimed to reduce cholesterol, help the digestive system and prevent cancer (FAO, 2004). The outer skin is not eaten. The pulp, especially of the red or purple types, can be blended as a drink or used for sherbets and salads or to make syrup and can be used for making juice or wine. Frozen pulp is used to flavour ice cream, yoghurt, jelly, preserves, candy and pastries. The flowers are edible and can be eaten steamed or cooked as a vegetable or steeped as a tea. The tiny black seeds are eaten with the fruit; however, these are indigestible and have a mild laxative effect. Fruit is usually eaten chilled for improved flavour. The unopened flower buds are edible and can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The fruit is also used as an ornament on banquet or buffet tables, either entire or in slices.

The peel can be used to produce betacyanin and colouring pigments, and the mucilage in the food or cosmetics industries. The stems and flowers of Hylocereus species have been used for medicinal purposes to treat diabetes, as a diuretic and to help wound healing. The fruit has been found to have a preventive effect on cardiovascular disease.

Environmental services

From an ecological point of view, the species is an important source in Mexico of nectar for bats, including the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae) and the Mexican long-tongued bat (Choeronycteris mexicana), which visit flowers during the night, and for honey bees (Apis mellifera), which visit during the day (Valiente-Banuet et al., 1996).

Uses List

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Human food and beverage

  • Beverage base
  • Fruits
  • Vegetable

Ornamental

  • garden plant
  • Potted plant

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Hylocereus ocamponis (Salm-Dyck) Britton & Rose is a similar cactus to H. undatus and is cultivated in Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia and Puerto Rico. It has more deeply undulate wings bordered with brown and longer spines. The fruit is wine-red outside and inside, and the flesh is sweet (Morton, 1987). Other dragon-fruit-type Hylocereus species producing sweet fruits include H. costaricensis (red skin, red flesh) and H. megalanthus (yellow skin, white flesh).

Other climbing cactus species grown for their edible fruit include H. lemairei, producing fruits with red skin and red flesh dotted with edible black seeds, and Selenicereus megalanthus, the pitaya amarillo or yellow pitaya, producing fruits with yellow skin and clear to white flesh containing edible black seeds (Luders and McMahon, 2006).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

Public Awareness

On Niue, where weedy H. undatus has not been easy to eliminate, particularly when plants become established in rocky areas, public education is recommended in order to prevent the dumping of garden waste which contains H. undatus plant material and to discourage further planting of the species (Space et al., 2004).

Physical/Mechanical Control

Manual removal is the only control method mentioned in the literature (Hadden et al., 2005).

References

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Andrade RA, Martins ABG, Silva MTH, 2007. Influence of the material source and the cicatrize time in vegetative propagation of red dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus). Revista Brasileira de Fruticultura, 29(1):183-186

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Distribution References

Acevedo-Rodríguez P, Strong M T, 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies. Washington, DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution. 1192 pp. http://botany.si.edu/Antilles/WestIndies/catalog.htm

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CABI, 2020. CABI Distribution Database: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS)http://griis.org/Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Contributors

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17/08/16: Updated for Invasive Species Compendium by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, USA

10/09/15 Invasive Species Compendium sections added by:

Andrew Praciak, CABI, UK

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