What fruit is South Africa known for? The South African horticultural sector is known for producing and exporting commodities such as citrus, avocados, grapes, stone fruit, and top fruit, but the production of exotic fruit types, such as dragon fruit, is also on the increase. South Africa currently has around 50ha of producing dragon fruit and produces around 100 tonnes per year. This figure is expected to increase considerably within the next few years with extensive new plantings coming into production. The industry has an established grower support body called Dragon Fruit South Africa(DFSA). The DFSA platform allows members to engage with local and international business partners, sponsors, and exporters to further develop their dragon fruit farming enterprises. DFSA has already established numerous youth farms for upcoming dragon fruit farmers, providing training and creating jobs in the agriculture sector. South Africa’s primary export market for dragon fruit is Europe. If the local production increases, South Africa will be able to supply to markets in the Far East and the USA. Dragon fruit is grown in the Natal Midlands and coastal regions of KwaZulu Natal, the Lowveld area from Nelspruit and Tzaneen, the Eastern Cape, and the Western Cape. The biggest new plantings in South Africa are around the Dendron and Louis Trichardt areas in the Limpopo province. This fruit is harvested from November to March. If the dragon fruit plants are young, they will only produce from January to March, but the older the plant, the longer the fruiting season. Fruit matures within a month, changing color to red 27 to 33 days after pollination. What exactly is a dragon fruit and how did it get its name? You might be wondering why the name dragon fruit and where in the world does this exotic-looking, mildly sweet-flavored fruit come from? The fruit got its name due to the leather-like skin and prominent scaly spikes on the exterior of the fruit, which resemble fire and scales resembling that of a dragon. The Dragon fruits are known to be native to Southern Mexico and across Central and South America. The fruit is also cultivated throughout Asia, with parts of South Africa, and Vietnam being its top producer and exporter. Vietnam currently has a total production area of about 57000ha of dragon fruit. The scientific name of Dragon fruit (Selenicereus undatus) is derived from the Greek word hyle (woody) and the Latin words cereus (waxen) and undatus, which refers to the wavy edges of the stems. Dragon fruit is also known as pitahaya and pitaya, depending on the genus and strawberry pear. Predominant varieties in South Africa are the pink-red skin with red flesh and the pink-red with white flesh dragon fruit varieties. There is also the yellow dragon fruit which is a winter-flowering species. They are smaller and grow slower than the other varieties and are more sensitive to pests and diseases. This variety is sweeter than the red-skinned varieties. South Africa’s climate makes the yellow dragon fruit not suitable for local production. Dragon fruit flowers are referred to as the moonflower or lady of the night because they flower only one night in a year. After the flowering occurs, the fruit will begin to form. The dragon fruit plants can take between 4-5 years to fruit and can produce fruit for 20 to 30 years. The plants grow best in drier tropical or subtropical areas and prefer very warm temperatures. Optimal growing temperatures are between 21°C and 29°C, and the plant can survive in temperatures as high as 41°C and temperatures as low as -1°C.