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These gorgeous and exotic fruit have become more and more popular in recent years with the boom of smoothies and health foods. Commonly advertised as Pitaya, you’ll see dragon fruit as a popular choice in fruit flavors in Hawaii, but you can also find the actual fruit at farmers’ markets, Chinatown grocery stores and dragon fruit farms from July through November. But what many people (and locals) don’t know is that the best part of these fruits are their flowers!
Dragon fruit flowers are the size of your head when fully bloomed and stay open for only one short night. As soon as the warm morning rays hit their delicate petals, they wilt incredibly fast and their swift beauty is gone before anyone is the wiser. Often blooming on a full moon or near it, they can be hard to spot since most people are in bed by the time they are fully open (around 10 PM). However, if you keep your eyes peeled anytime before 8 AM, you’ll be able to find these magical flowers in the sunlight and take a selfie.
Dragon fruit are actually a type of cactus, which is the first thing that surprises people. Local dragon fruit can be found in several neighborhoods with their long spiny arms hanging over a yard’s fence, wall or terrace. You’ll see the cactus of the dragon fruit year round, but they don’t get interesting until July when the flowers and fruit begin to appear. If the plant is healthy, dragon fruit will continue to flower and bear fruit through November.
The most common dragon fruit you’ll find in Hawaii will be with white meat and a dark pink skin. The second most common will look similar on the outside, but will have dark pink meat instead, which I think is slightly sweeter. The third and most rare is the yellow dragon fruit that is the sweetest of them all. If you have a chance to try the yellow one, seize the opportunity! Many locals don’t even get a chance to taste it. Despite their eye-catching beauty, these fruit typically aren’t super sweet like a mango, but instead have a subtle, faint sweetness that may surprise you.
Local tip: Shopping for a dragon fruit? Look for a uniform dark pink all around the fruit, with slightly yellowed “leaves.” Many local growers say “the uglier, the better” when removing a dragon fruit from its cactus. If the pointy leaves on the dragon fruit are very green, that means that the fruit was picked too early and needs a few more days. As with most fruit, make sure it gives only a little when you press on the skin.
Maui’s first commercial dragonfruit farm has a tour that will show you agricultural life in Hawaii and give you a close-up view of these “King of Fruits.” You’ll also get a chance to wander the farm and see the variety of fruit they have, in addition to the outdoor activities like the zipline!