Friday, October 14, 2011



A common but yet unknown plant, the Hylocereus, commonly known in St-Martin by the name: “Ladies of the night” most probably because flowers open only after night fall at the same time exhaling a very sweet scent in the airand will close up with the risen of the sun.

I knew this plant from my childhood, there was a plant in a neighbor's front yard and as kids we would hang around in the evening to watch out for the opening of the flowers and to breathe the perfumed air.

It is in remembrance of this childhood amusement that I planted two cuttings to climb up on the brick post on each side of my home entrance. In a year or two after not only the plant started to throw out the big beautiful and sweet scented flowers reminding me my childhood, but to my great surprise it started given fruits that I had never seen before.

One day a Rastafarian friend saw the fruits and told me they were edible. He pick a few and started to eat one. And then another day I had some Jehovah's witnesses visitors and they told me that they saw that fruit selling at the price of 25 guilders each in a supermarket on Dutch St-Maarten, the same fruit, not much bigger than those on my plants

On the other hand many people told me they have the plant around their their home for decades but have never seen it flowered. Others have seen it flowering for years but have never seen it given a fruit.

So I started to make some research on the plant and here is what I have found concerning our “Ladies of the Night”:

  • Scientific name: Hylocereus: By etymology : “Hyle” is the Greek word for “Forest” and “Cereus' is the latin word for “Candle”. Therefore “Hylocereus can be interpreted to be: “ Forest Candle”.

  • There are nearly 20 recognized species: Hylocereus undatushylocereus costaricensis - hylocereus purpusii – Hylocereus trigonus – Hylocereus Lemairel (The latter is found in: Trinidad &Tobago – French Guyana – Surinam – Venezuela – SouthAmerica – Caribbean islands). Etc.

  • Common names: Berceau de Moïse, Cactus Liane, Nightblooming Cactus, Queen of the Night, Sweet scented Cactus, Vanilla Cactus, Large Flowered Cactus, Raquette Tortue, Ladies of the night

  • Subfamily: Cactoideae (Cacti)

  • Tribe: Hylocereeae

  • Originating from: From Southern Mexico down throughout Central America and into Northern South-West America.

  • Reproduction : Cuttings but also by seedling

  • Flowering: From June to September

  • Fruition: About 1month after flowering. Name: Dragon Fruit (Fruit du Dragon) – “Pataya” or “Pitahaya”

The Hylocereus exist in nearly 20 different species and can be found in all inter-tropical zone around the world. It is said to be originated from Southern Mexico down throughout Central America ant into Northern South-West America. It is also

widely spread in the Mediterranean basin and in North Africa.

While all species bear varying edible fruits, the Hylocereus undatus is the primary species grown for its fruits particular in Asia. It is cultivated on a large scale for exportation purposes of its fruits in Vietnam , Thailand and Israel for many decades and more recently in Reunion.

The plant is a clambered 3 angles cactus-type stem with crenellated and horny edges bearing some very short spines and spacious aerial roots. It flowers from of June to September, strictly night-flowering. The flowers are large, white on the outside and yellow inwardly and contains many

stamens holding the pollens. The flowers will start opening around 9 P.M. And will remain open only for a few hours, it will close up in the morning hours with the Sun rise.



Hylocereus can be grown from cuttings but also from seedlings. With former method the plant develop and bears fruits within an year after planting the cutting compared to the 3 years that will take the latter

Hylocereus are climbing cacti, as the name implies grew primarily in forested areas like vines, sprawling and clambering their way up into trees thanks to its aerial roots. It branch frequently and grew very high exceeding 30 feet

(10 meters) thus becoming quite massive.

Most species even though may grow clinging to other plants are not epiphytic (parasite) but are rooted in the earth from where they get their nurture.

It is cultivated by making the plant cling to vertical stakes that may be of wood, concrete or

bricks, 1 to 1,1/2 high or on vertical or inclined metallic netting. Because of its weight, the plants should be pruned and attached to their support.

Due to the shallow rooting system of the plant it demands but a little amount mineral and organic mineral. Regular watering of the plant will favor the production of beautiful fruits.


The hylocereus plants grow normally but will but very rarely fructify spontaneously.

Pollination is necessary. It consist in taking the pollen of the stamen of one flower to the stigma of a flower of the same species permitting the pollination (Fertilization).

Bees, in particular Honey-bees are the natural pollination agents. In America it is done by bats and Sphinx moths.

But natural pollination is inefficient for the producing of commercial size fruits. The small size in particular of the bees do not permit the laying of sufficient pollen on the flowers pistils. The size of the fruit being in proportion with the quantity of pollen laid.

Therefore it is necessary to recourse to manual pollination. And it has been proven that it is best to recourse to species cross-breed pollination. As example to pollinate manually the flower of the hylocereus undatus with the pollen taken from the hylocereus Costaricensis or hylocereus purpusii.

The weight of the fruit is normally between 300 and 700 grams but it is not rare to find produced in Vietnam fruits weighting over a Kg.

The fruit is fill inside with a sweetish juicy pulp, white with some millions of fine black seeds. It's a very thirst-quenching fruit mostly when refrigerated. The pulp is also use to make very delicious ice cream. Seemingly the flowers buds are also edible as a vegetable.

It can be eaten scooped out with a little spoon nature fresh or with a dash of green lemon juice for those who may not like the sweetish taste of the pulp.

The fruit is very rich in vitamin C, fibre and mineral sels it is also claimed to have laxative and stimulating properties.

There is no difference between the fruits of the Hylocereus undatus and the fruit of the hylocereus costaricensis but the fruits of the hylocereus purpusii even though exteriorly the aspect is the same the color of the pulp is of a wine-red.

The fruit in the Caribbean, Central and South America by the name of “Pitahaya” or “Pitaya”.

In Asia and more particular in Vietnam by the name of “ Thanh Long” or “The Dragon Fruit”, most likely by referencing to the interlaced design ans sinuous form as it laps around the tree reminding a Dragon body.

If the cacti Hylocereus is known in St-Martin most probably for over a hundred years, on the contrary, Its fruit, “Pitaya” “Pitahaya” or The “The Dragon Fruit” (Fruit du Dragon) that was practically unknown in St-Martin 5 years ago,

can be found today on the exotic fruits departments of a small number of supermarkets on the island.


  1. We would frequently go to visit my grandmother when the cactus bloomed at night! Thanks for the great memories and all the information.

  2. This is one of the most comprehensive articles I have been able to find regarding this plant! We have the Dragon Fruit all over our property and until you can see this plant first hand, you have but just an idea of how beautiful it can be! Thank you for sharing your wonderful and outstanding article!