The dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) was introduced to this part of the world only during the last few years as a dessert fruit. Initially, fruits with whitish-grey flesh and tasting bland were sold in supermarkets. Later, the sweetish, reddish fruits were introduced (below).
The plant is an epiphytic or climbing cactus. The green stem is angular, spiny and scrambles over supports, including other plants, bearing roundish, red fruits (above left). Flowers are large, fragrant and open in the evening (above right). Originating from Central and South America, it is now cultivated in many Southeast Asian countries.
Tan Teo Seng grows the plant in his Malaysian farm in Kota Tinggi, Johor. He reports that birds do not eat the sweet flesh embedded with tiny black seeds, or any other animals for that matter. This is because the fruit is a recent introduction and animals have yet to discover it. In an effort to confirm his claims, I obtained a few fruits from him and placed them in my garden. He was right, no animals, including squirrels and birds like Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) and Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) came anywhere near the fruits for some time.
Then on the morning of 18th March 2013, I noticed that the fruit left in the garden had nearly all its flesh removed after being intact for two days. Keeping watch, a family of Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus), two adults and a juvenile, was seen coming back regularly to finish off the fruit. The two adults were eating the fruit (above) as well as feeding the begging juvenile with bits and pieces (below).
A few weeks later, with a fresh supply of fruits, I tried again. This time the family of Red-whiskered Bulbul was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to photograph a Yellow-vented Bulbul eating the fruit (below).
These are possibly new feeding records for Singapore. I am sure in countries where these fruits are grown commercially, there would be reports of birds eating them. With time other species will be introduced to these fruits and in the process the seeds will be dispersed around Singapore.
YC Wee & Tan Teo Seng