One of the fruits we often ate at breakfast in the hotels in China was the ‘Dragon Fruit’. There was always a lot of curiosity about it at the breakfast buffets, and although I told people it was the fruit of a cactus, I’m not sure anyone believed me. It’s widely cultivated now in China, as well as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, but it is a cactus (‘Pitaya’ or ‘Pitahaya’), originally from Mexico. The genera Hylocereus (like this one) and Stenocereus produce these big juicy fruits with little black seeds embedded in them. Frankly, like a lot of exotic fruit, it’s fairly tasteless, but it looks very pretty, and it made a change from melon.
I used to specialise in cacti and other succulents when I worked at the Botanics, and I’ve still got a couple of hundred in my glasshouse at home. They’re mostly the high altitude ones from South America, but it’s too cold in Scotland to grow the Dragon Fruit ones. Mine have to be tough to survive, coming from the Andes, but their flowers are spectacular.