Enter the Dragon: A Time-lapse of a Dragon Fruit Flower Blooming

I may have mentioned once or twice that more times than not, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I write Mind Your Dirt not so much as an expert, but as someone willing to learn and inspired by that learning. Growing dragon fruit apparently is no exception to this rule.

I was given some clippings about four years ago from a friend. I had dreams of eating my own weight worth of juicy dragon fruit (pitaya) almost instantly. This magical and mysterious fruit was aptly named.

Pitaya Cross Section.
Pitaya Cross Section.

It does indeed look like a dragon egg. Not that I’ve seen many in my lifetime, but this is what I would expect to see were that to change.

I wasn’t born and raised in San Diego, so my natural instincts for the proper care of cactus are newly learned. That’s no excuse however. I immediately labeled and categorized this new dragon fruit plant as a cactus and planted it as such. Right in my cactus garden with little to no water, mulch or organic material. It’s my “screw it, do your thing” section of the yard.

"Good luck suckers!"
“Good luck suckers!”

Over the years it did indeed grow. That was my first lesson. This plant NEEDS to be well supported. From a gardening and evolutionary standpoint this is a sloppy beast! It can’t support its own weight and doesn’t even try to. I quickly began to realize that something had to be done but, again, it was in my “screw it” section so I let it slide. And slide it did!

The second thing I realized was that I wasn’t swimming in the fruit like I should’ve been. In fact, of the hundreds of fruit I was eating in my minds-eye, only zero of fruit were making it into my dragon hungry stomach. Zero of fruit.

So, again, I don’t know as much as you may think. Or maybe you know me well enough to not be surprised by that sentence. So I sashayed my way over to the mighty Interwebs for some answers.

My first mistake was treating it like a cactus. This plant actually wants a nice fertile and well mulched soil to retain moisture. It also needed some kind of strong support structure to hold it in place and support its lumbering mass. Stupid needy liar cactus! I spent a good few minutes chastising it for its deception, laziness and inability to support itself. It tried to look away in shame and self-loathing, but the message was received. I don’t mince words with my plants. If they act the fool, they get the wrath. No time for coddling in my garden of danger! Especially when “dragon” is in your damn name!

So, about two months ago I moved it. I amended the soil, built a wooden structure to trap it and applied a heavy mulch to lock in that moisture. You happy now fool? Yes. Yes it was. Because as of the night before last, she began to grow flowers for the first time!!

I was tending to my garden when I noticed this massive closed flower. It must’ve grown fast for me to have missed a flower as large as this!

Enter the Dragon 1c_Dragon fruit closed bloom

 Then, two days later, I noticed that the flower was beginning to open up! A quick Instagram post later I added this image.

Enter the Dragon 2_Closed Flower
Stuff and things are happening!

And not knowing much about how fast these flowers open, I continued my menial garden tasks. Exactly 22 minutes later I walked by again to find this transformation.

Enter the Dragon 3_Opening flower
ARGH! Stuff and things are happening faster than I imagined!

Then panic set in! This would’ve been an amazing opportunity to make a time-lapse of the flower opening up. I’d already missed the really exciting part and I had to act fast!

I sprinted inside to gather some equipment and do a speedy set up in hopes of capturing the process. By my calculations, I had precisely -30 minutes to get the job done. I thrive on impossible problem solving. There was no time to finish my time machine. Especially when my flux capacitor was at the shop! Despite all the hurdles I was able to set up an impromptu rig as the sun began to set.

Enter the Dragon 4_Photo Setup

With several rushed adjustments and hurried aperture settings, I was ready to begin.

Enter the Dragon 5_Photo Setup 2

I started off taking a shot every two minutes. All the action was in the beginning of the blooming. Then it began to slow down as the pedals opened. 8:00 turned into 9:00 and I began to realize that in my panic, I’ve created a trap for myself. I couldn’t move from this spot until the task was done! I hadn’t eaten dinner yet and the next day was a work day. What have I done? When I realized the pace had slowed, I adjusted the time between shots to five minutes. I also began watching Back to the Future on my cell to fill in those mini-breaks in between shots. I was also able to run in quickly and grab a couple raw hot dogs for sustenance (I know, how healthy!). A friend stopped by to pick up his VW bus. I texted him to come on in and grab me a beer out of the fridge on his way to my slave station where I was chained down indefinitely. Supplies were on route! And it was nice to have company. 9:00 turned into 10:00.

I changed the timing once again to ten minutes. My rescue guests left me to handle their own affairs while boosting their mobility. 10:00 became 11:00. And so on and so on. By 1:00 ack emma I had realized that the show was over. Or at least I was over the show! I packed up my gear and went inside to retire and get ready for the busy work day happening in too few hours.

The following is the results of my ill planned and poorly executed time-lapse. All that work for a few seconds of shabby video. Does life grade on a curve? Hope so. I beefed up the video by reversing the blooming and then replaying it for a breathing effect. I also completely forgot to pollinate the flower!! See. Not too bright am I? Regardless, enjoy this attempt at awesomeness!

Now unless there was a wayward fruit bat hanging out in the yard, I have serious doubts that this flower was properly pollinated. So, most likely, no fruit for me! But the lesson was learned and next time I’ll be ready for full documentation followed by a robust self-pollinating. Let’s call this a trial run at an awesome post shall we?

19 Replies to “Enter the Dragon: A Time-lapse of a Dragon Fruit Flower Blooming”

  1. Wonderful and amazing. What a flower, and you captured it very well James. Once I bought this fruit, it was in Malta, but did not know how to eat it – haha, I will be even more fascinated by it next time I see the fruit. 🙂

    1. We’ll call this one a test run! The next will be better as I’ll be prepared! I have yet to try one, but based on its description, I’m thinking I’ll love it. Time will tell of I pollinated it in time. What a rookie!

      1. It’s great already though James, I surely hope it got pollinated, because growing plants from your own seeds is so rewarding, I will be keeping an eye out for your results!

        1. Fingers crossed. And toes. Speaking of pollinators, I just checked on the monarch caterpillars and now there are seven of them! I hope the milkweed lasts long enough to raise them up. All they do is munch and poop.

  2. Joe and i have sat for hours watching this cactus bloom open. We tried unsuccessfully to pollinate it once. It’s a nighttime performance, good for our Karma
    MaryK in Orlando (enjoying all your posts!)

    1. Thanks Mary! The touch of Back to the Future made for a nice double feature. Like I was at a drive-in but parked way in the back. If only Nury was there, we could’ve necked and stuff. Plus no popcorn.

  3. All that dragon fruit dreaming and you’ve never eaten one yet?? Neither have I, although I saw them for sale at my Safeway and passed them up as too weird. Now I have to go back and hope they are still there! Your night photography reminds me of my dad’s story of how the family (who owned a greenhouse/florist) would stay up all night to watch their night-blooming cereus open … oh holy cow–I just looked that up and IT’S THE SAME PLANT!!! Talk about back to the future! You’ve taken me back to my dad’s childhood! Now I am obsessed with finding that fruit at Safeway!! This is a little spooky!

    1. What a small horticultural nerd world! I’m in good company it seems. You should share this with your pop, it might bring him back as well. There a definite unplanned time theme going on here. Time travel, time-lapse and times remembered.

      It’s true, I’ve only seen videos of the fruit being eaten. And I’d say out loud, “Hey man, let me try some please”. But the screen would flicker a solemn “no way” and my belly would rumble in sadness. Zero of fruit.

      1. Too late to bring Pop back (how did you know I called him “Pop”?) He’s been gone for years, but I know somewhere out in the ether, he’s smiling at all this. Safeway assures me they will have more dragon fruit in a few days.

        1. A sentiment I am all too familiar with. I called my dad pop as well. Poppa bear, towards the last few years. I think you’re right, they’re out there smiling. I can feel him when my mind is still and my heart is open. Which is all well and good, but I’d give anything for a big long hug.

          Safeway must have wizards or something. I’ve never seen dragon fruit at the store. Or haven’t been looking hard enough. I think dragons have to pollinate it. Which must be quite an affair! All I have is a small brush and a silly bee costume…

  4. It’s still amazing my friend. Can’t wait for the full version…

    And I have to agree with you that it would take a dragon to lay an egg like that. Direction and alignment would be pivotal. Or else painful…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.