NOT many are cognisant of the nutrient-dense dragon fruit, and while this fruit is native to South and Central America, the majority who are aware of it does not know that it is cultivated here in Guyana. However, tucked away at a farm owned by well-known businessman, Beni Sankar at the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Blairmont Estate, West Bank Berbice, a local farmer by the name of Wayne Charles, commonly known as “Trini,” has been cultivating the fruit over two years now.
The Guyana Chronicle on Friday caught up with “Trini,” who provided some insight into the fruit and the steps and procedures involved in the cultivation of it; a process he describes as no secret. Dragon fruit, also known as “pitaya” or “strawberry pear,” gets its name from its appearance — the fluorescent red or yellow oval-shaped fruit with spike-like green leaves shooting up like flames around it — reminiscent of a dragon.
On the inside, the tropical fruit has a cream-like, silky-smooth texture, which can be described as sweet, usually compared to a cross between kiwi and pear with a dash of watermelon. It is a delicacy simple to prepare: as tough as the outer shell may appear, it is easily sliced down the middle to access the cream-like flesh which can be scooped out with a spoon and consumed, inclusive of all of the crunchy tiny black seeds.
Not just is it a healthy snack on its own, it can be used to make a variety of products such as drinks, including smoothies and cocktails, fruit salads, desserts, and it pairs well with fish dishes as well. According to WebMD, one six-ounce serving of dragon fruit contains 102 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of sugar, five grams of fibre, two grams of protein and zero grams of fat. It is also packed with 100 international units (IU) of Vitamin A, four milligrams of Vitamin C, 31 milligrams of calcium, 68 milligrams of magnesium, one gram of iron and several types of antioxidants.
STRENGTHEN IMMUNE SYSTEM
These nutritional properties protect cells from damage by free radicals – molecules that can lead to diseases such as cancer and premature aging. They are also good for digestive health, as they are loaded with prebiotics, and can kill disease-causing viruses and bacteria, and help with food digestion. It can also strengthen the immune system and boost iron levels. It is produced from a type of cactus of the genus Selenicereus (formerly Hylocereus). Because of its cactus nature, for cultivation it requires minimum water, and plenty of sunlight, “Trini” related.
It originally grew in regions including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and northern South America, which makes Guyana ideal for its cultivation. However, it is also popular in Southeast Asia, and the United States. There are several varieties of the fruit; however, the three most common are the Hylocereus undatus which has white flesh with pink/red skin; Hylocereus Megalanthus, white flesh with yellow skin and the Hylocereus costaricensis purple/red flesh and pink/red skin.
So far, “Trini” has only dabbled in cultivating the Hylocereus costaricensis, with which he has seen massive success, and is now developing a nursery to plant the Hylocereus Megalanthus after recently acquiring a stem of the plant. “Trini” explained that he has encountered no difficulties in cultivating the fruit, since beginning to do so, and most of his knowledge about the fruit and the process of cultivating the plant was gathered from the worldwide web.
He noted that there are two processes from which the plant can be cultivated, from seed or stem. Starting from seed, however, would take about five to six years to yield fruit. While he has a nursery with seeds being set to bring up plants, his preferred method is by stem. He starts the cultivation process by planting the stem in a pot, and within a month the stem sprouts roots which he then transfers to open soil. The first time he planted the fruit was through these means, as a stem was given to him by a friend. “I plant it and watch and learn, there’s no secret, because of the plant being a type of cactus it does not require too much water, no bugs or pests just ants,” he told this publication.
“It ain’t hard, you just got to know how, once you know it’s not hard. Just like any other plant, you watch it, there’s nothing special, no fertilisers or any chemicals — all natural — just need nice soil,” he said. “Trini” is currently experimenting with a control group to analyse the most appropriate method to cultivate the plant which will yield greater results and will expand his farm to produce dragon fruit on a larger scale. He related that while the fruit bears all year, it bears “on and off” with a large yield and then a small yield, alternating. The fruit is marketed locally for up to $5,000 per kilo.