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Hylocereus undatus Britt. & Rose
Cereus undatus Haw.
This is one of the most beautiful and widespread members of the family Cactaceae, with one common name for its fruit, strawberry pear, and another for the plant, night-blooming cereus. Hylocereus undatus Britt. & Rose (syn. Cereus undatus Haw.), has been often misnamed H. triangularis, a binomial restricted today to a very similar cactus, H. triangularis Britt. & Rose (syns. Cereus triangularis Haw.; Cactus triangularis L.), endemic in Jamaica.
The Spanish terms pitaya, pitajaya, pitahaya, are applied to the strawberry pear in Latin America, in common with the edible fruits of several other species of cacti; but pitahqya roja and pitahaya blanca are applied specifically to H. undatus in Mexico; pitahaya de cardón in Guatemala.
This cactus may be terrestrial or epiphytic. Its heavy, 3-sided, green, fleshy, much-branched stems with flat, wavy wings having horny margins, may reach 20 ft (6 m) in length. They arch over rocks or bushes, climb and form dense masses in trees, and cling to walls, by means of numerous, strong aerial roots. There are 2 to 5 short, sharp spines at each areole. The magnificent, night-blooming, very fragrant, bell-shaped, white flowers, up to 14 in (35 cm) long and 9 in (22.5 cm) wide, have a thick tube bearing several linear, green scales 1 1/2 to 3 in (4-7.5 cm) long, above which is a circle of recurved, greenish-yellow, linear segments 4 3/8 in (11 cm) long and 3/8 to 5/8 in (1-1.6 cm) wide, and an inner circle of about 20 white, oblong-lanceolate segments 4 in (10 cm) long and 1 1/4 to l 1/2 in (3.2-4 cm) wide. Very numerous, cream-colored stamens form a showy fringe in the center and at the apex of the thick perianth tube. The non-spiny fruit is oblong-oval, to 4 in (10 cm) long, 2 1/2 in (6.25 cm) thick, coated with the bright-red, fleshy or yellow, ovate bases of scales. Within is white, juicy, sweet pulp containing innumerable tiny black, partly hollow seeds.
The strawberry pear is believed native to southern Mexico, the Pacific side of Guatemala and Costa Rica, and El Salvador. It is commonly cultivated and naturalized throughout tropical American lowlands, the West Indies, the Bahamas, Bermuda, southern Florida and the tropics of the Old World.
Degener tells how this species reached Hawaii in 1830 in a shipment of plants loaded at a Mexican port aboard a ship en route from Boston to Canton, China. He says most of the plants died and were being discarded during a stopover in Hawaii, but the Captain noticed that the strawberry pear was still partly alive. Cuttings were planted and flourished and the cactus became a common ornamental in the islands. It blooms there spectacularly but rarely sets fruit. This species is often used as a rootstock on which to graft various ornamental cacti including Zygocactus, Epiphyllum and Rhipsalis.
It blooms and fruits mainly in August and September.
It is not clear whether the pitahaya amarilla of Colombia is the same as the yellow form of H. undatus which occurs in Mexico. Perez-Arbelaez describes it under Cereus triangularis Haw. but expresses doubt as to its true identity. The attractive and delicious fruit is served whole or halved as dessert in hotels in Bogotá. (see Plate XLVIII).
The ripe strawberry pear is much appreciated, especially if chilled and cut in half so that the flesh can be eaten with a spoon. The juice is enjoyed as a cool drink. A sirup made of the whole fruit is used to color pastries and candy. The unopened flowerbud can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
We have only Aguilar Giron's assay of the pulp: water, 92.20; protein, 0.48-0.50; carbohydrates, 4.33-4.98; fat, 0.17-0.18; fiber, 1.12; ash, 1.10%.
Analyses made in Guatemala were published under the heading "Hylocereus undatus". However, the pulp is described in accompanying notes as being "a bright, clear cerise", and the fruits analyzed were accordingly those of H. guatemalensis Britt. & Rose which is very much like H. undatus, but has smaller, red-fleshed fruits instead of white-fleshed. A large vine of the Guatemalan species has festooned a tree at the Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead, Florida, for many years. The composition of this species, analyzed by Munsell, et al. (1950), is tabulated here in lieu of comparable data on H. undatus.
*Analyses of H. guatemalensis.
The sap of the stems of H. undatus has been utilized as a vermifuge but it is said to be caustic and hazardous. The air-dried, powdered stems contain B-sitosterol.