One-Night Stand with a Chinese Dragon

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Some twenty-five years ago in a Bogotá market, I met my first yellow pitayas, a fist-sized fruit with a bumpy rind and delicate white flesh. I rummaged through the pile and found one with enough of its cactus stem attached that I could try rooting it. It grew but never thrived nor blossomed. I brought a cutting from that plant through customs in 1990, but lost it to a freeze. By the time I tried to bring another cutting through customs, the Hylocereus megalanthus was protected as an endangered species and I lost my sample to confiscation.

Eventually a member of the California Rare Fruit Growers offered me cuttings of both the pitaya and its near cousin, the Chinese Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus undatus), but I’ve never had the right place, or the right climate, or the right touch. They grow best in places like Thailand. I’ve waited in vain, watching for my first blossom.

Last night it came. My potted and trellised vine sprawls in a hard-to-reach corner of my sun-porch, but I noticed a tiny bud last week. It grew at a rate of over an inch a day until it reached eleven inches. I lived in fear of missing its brief appearance. The Hylocereus blossom only opens once, for seven or eight hours, in the middle of the night. When I found it open, I was most surprised to see an off-center pistil overlooking a mass of delicate stamens. Its smell was noticeable, though drab, but the flower was stunning. I quick snapped some pictures, brought my wife out for a viewing, and plucked some stamens for hand-pollination.

Now I must wait to see if my efforts will pay off. My reading tells me the Dragon Fruit needs thirty days from blossom to mature fruit. I’m counting.

The picture at left is from a Dragon Fruit I enjoyed in Kunming, China.

Update: Almost ripe at day 39.

A Passion for Passion Vine

Saturday, September 18, 2010

One of my delights this past month has been a new hedge of passion vine along my back fence. My impetus was new construction on the vacant lot behind us: I wanted some quick privacy. Since I had developed a fondness for the genus Passiflora while living in South America, I decided to try several species, some for their spectacular flowers, some for their fruit (a "sweet granadilla" and the sour "maracuya") and one for its cold hardiness.The first to bloom has been this P. vitifolia. The blossoms last only from sun-up to sun-down, but new ones appear almost daily. So far, none have set fruit, even with my attempts at hand pollination, but I’ve noticed a sudden influx of hummingbirds, fritillary butterflies, and even a swallowtail. Such fun.