While the coconut tree is Asia’s tree of life, the dragon fruit cactus plant though a native of Central America and some parts of South America, maybe considered Asia’s vine of life, since it is cultivated in Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines due to its high medicinal and economic value.
Just like the coconut tree, the dragon cactus plant’s parts are all utilized, nothing goes to waste and the flesh are both nutritious and with high commercial value.
Cactus is called dessert plant. It easily adapts to soils of almost any kind. Most cactus do not flower and if they do, they do not bear fruit, but the dragon fruit plant flowers and bears fruit. The flowers that are white and large that only bloom at night are often called Moonflower or Queen of the Night. These are edible when dried.
Dragon cactus is a perennial epiphytic, climbing cactus with triangular, fleshy jointed green stems and grows from 25 to 50 years. The stem segments grow to about six meters long.
The pink oblong fruit of the dragon plant that usually weighs at least ¼ kilo or more has triangle like tassels all over. When cut, will show the color of the flesh of white and magenta (red) and the yellow skin has white flesh. These are the varieties grown in the province.
However, the pink dragon fruit with red flesh are the ones most planted because of its sweet taste than the others. The pulps of the fruits whether with pink or yellow skin is embedded with tiny edible seeds that help clean the intestines.
This characteristic of the dragon fruit (locally called Saniata) paved the way for the culturing of this plant at the backyard of Ms. Editha Aguinaldo Dacuycuy.
She was then aggressively looking for a cure for the constipation problem of her child with cerebral palsy, when she came across of this cactus in a friend’s yard. She informed her of the medicinal value of the plant that could relieve her child’s problem and also gave her planting materials.
She got interested with the plant and her curiosity of the crop and its medicinal properties prompted her to learn more about it through the internet and some reading materials.
Since dragon cactus is from Thailand and other Asian countries, she sent her daughter to Thailand to study more of the plant including its cultural management and when she came home, she has not only the information or knowledge about the plant but also the planting materials.
Ms. Dacuycuy pioneered the dragon cactus growing in Ilocos Norte. She ventured to dragon fruit plant growing initially in her farm in Paayas, Burgos, Ilocos Norte, where eight hectares, have been gradually planted to the crop and presently earning from it from fresh fruits and other products produced from the fruits and the parts of the plants.
The planted area that has 1,500 concrete poles (at least 7 ft) per hectare, each pole planted to four cuttings close to the four corners of the pole to be easily tied to it, as they grow until they reach the top of the pole, where a tire is placed for the plants to gather like crown with the tips of the cactus spreading out, and wait for nine months to one year from the date of planting to bear fruits while continuously caring for the plants.
Fruiting season starts from May to November with at least five to six harvesting cycle every year. The fruits when properly harvested have a shelf life of one month or more. Each pole produces 30 to 40 kilos of fruits.
Total area planted to dragon cactus in Ilocos Norte is 37.7 hectares and increasing fast because of the demand for the fruits even in Ilocos Norte alone due to its therapeutic properties and high market value. One hundred Fifty (P150) pesos per kilo.
Dragon fruit is a rich source of vitamin C, vitamins B1, B2 and B3, water soluble fiber, protein, fat, carbohydrates, crude fiber, sodium, calcium, flavonoid, pyridoxine, kobalamin, glucose, phenolic, betacyanins, polyphenol, carotene, phosphorus, potassium, iron and phytoalbumin which are highly valued for their antioxidant properties.
It aids in the digestive process, prevents colon cancer and neutralizes toxic substances such as heavy metals, reduces cholesterol levels and high blood pressure and if regularly consumed helps control asthma and cough. It is also used to treat stomach and endocrine problem.
It also improves eyesight and prevents hypertension. The seeds of the dragon fruit help in controlling blood glucose levels in people with non-insulin-dependent hyperglycaemic conditions of diabetes.
The lycopene content of the red-fleshed variety which is a natural antioxidant is known to fight cancer and heart disease.
The dragon fruit, nutritious as it is, when prepared as candy, ice cream, fruit salad, refrigerator cake (all from pulp) jam (fruit peel puree); drinks, tea (roots/peel), marmalade, pickles (fruit peel), wine (pulp); baked as cup cake, macaroons, cookies, hopia, empanada (pulp); or cooked as shanghai lumpia, siomai, laing (dried flower); and made as herbal soap (fruit extract/leaf extract) add to the various products from dragon cactus which gives additional income to dragon fruit producers and generate employment.
The Saniata can be intercropped with various vegetables like kangkong, ginger, onion and others. Papaya and other crops could also be planted in the farm area and add income just like what Ms. Dacuycuy did.
All of these were learned/witnessed during the exhibit at the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) Teatro Ilocandia in Batac City on July 5 and during the media conference/Technology to People seminar (part of the Techno Gabay Program of PCARRD) on July 6, at REFMAD Farm (owned by Ms. Dacuycuy) at Paayas Burgos.
This is part of the first Saniata Dragon Fruit Festival Celebration on July 5-8, 2011. In the farm there is the processing and seminar/training center supervised and conducted by Ms. Dacuycuy.
What more could anyone ask for? Name it and you have it, from roots to fruit of the dragon cactus plant! For those who have idle lands that seem to be good for nothing, this is your chance to make them productive, plant them with dragon fruit cactus. They thrive in marginal areas and sand dunes and need minimal irrigation. Increase your income, while you help mitigate climate change.
Ms. Dacuycuy, 65 was appointed Magsasaka Siyentista of Ilocos Agriculture and Resource Research and Development Consortium (ILARRDEC) and Philippine Council for Agriculture Forestry and Natural Resources, Research and Development (PCARRD) in December 2008 and the Gawad Saka Award 2011.
She is directly assisted by the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist-Farmers Information and Technology Services (OPAG-FITS) Center with the assistance of MMSU as one of the Partner-Member Agencies of (ILARRDEC-PCARRD) in the implementation of Techno Gabay Program (TGP) in Region I.
She was acclaimed The Dragon Fruit Lady of Ilocos Norte. The Dragon Fruit Lady is not an agriculturist, but a BS Psychology graduate at UP Diliman and a Division Manager of an insurance company. What you are does not really matter, it is what you do and indeed blessings come in many ways and there is time for everything in His time.
PCARRD Executive Director Patricio S. Faylon, Commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education Melchor C. Medrano, Kailukuhan Saniata Cooperative (KASA Coop) President Editha A. Dacuycoy and other representatives of other institutions satisfactorily answered all question from the media.
PCARRD, ILARRDEC, the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte, KASA Coop and the Department of Education (DepEd) were the coordinating agencies to this Saniata Dragon Fruit Festival 2011. Estrella Z. Gallardo, PSciJourn Mega Manila