Escontria chiotilla

Escontria chiotilla dragon fruit tree

Escontria is a cactus group. Escontria chiotilla (also called Cereus chiotilla, Myrtillocactus chiotilla, Myrtillocactus chiotilla, the chiotilla, pitaya, pitahaya, dragon fruit or jiotilla) is the only species. The species comes from Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca, and the southern part of Puebla in Mexico.

It can grow up to 7 meters tall and looks like a tree. It has 7 or 8 sharp ribs and areoles that join together. It grows dark red fruit that looks and feels like Pitaya but is smaller (3.5 cm)


The arborescent Escontria chiotilla is strongly branched with flat tops, forms distinct stems and reaches a growing height of 4 to 7 meters. The light green, cylindrical shoots have diameters of 8 to 12 centimeters. The 7 to 8 ribs, more or less triangular in cross-section, are densely covered with dark gray, elongated areoles that sometimes flow into each other.

The usually one, red-orange to yellow central spine later turns gray and is up to 20 millimeters long. The 10 to 20 marginal spines, sometimes somewhat comb-shaped, are yellowish-brown, later becoming grayish-white, and are up to 12 millimeters long.

USDA hardiness 9-11
Edibility rating:4 out of 5
Other uses:3 out of 5
Weed potential:No

The flower buds and tubes of Escontria draginfruit stand out from the other Mexican cereoid species because they look like “gold leaf”. This metallic sheen is caused by bracts that look like thin membranes and are clear. The yellow, cup-shaped open flower is not much bigger than the flower tube.

Escontria chiotilla is the only plant species of the monotypic genus Escontria in the cactaceae family. The botanical name of the genus honors the Mexican engineer and temporary governor of San Luis Potosí Blas Escontria y Bustamante (1848-1906). The species epithet chiotilla derives from the local name “Chiotilla” for the edible fruits of the plant. Spanish trivial names are “Chiotilla” and “Jiotilla”.

This species of plant is not often grown in gardens because its large size makes it hard to fit. The spherical, fleshy, scaled fruits are purplish-brown and 5 centimeters or more in diameter.

Escontria chiotilla cacti photo

Distribution, systematics and endangerment

Escontria chiotilla is distributed in southern Mexico in the states of Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán.

The first plants were discovered in 1864 by Frédéric Albert Constantin Weber, who sent material to George Engelmann. However, it was not first described as Cereus chiotilla until 1897 by Karl Moritz Schumann. Joseph Nelson Rose placed it in the genus Escontria, which he had established, in 1906. Another nomenclatural synonym is Myrtillocactus chiotilla.

In the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the species is listed as Least Concern (LC), i.e., not endangered.


Jiotilla is a small, purple, round fruit that looks like a pineapple. It comes from a columnar cactus tree that grows in semiarid parts of Central Mexico, especially in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla. Even though locals have known for a long time that jiotilla is tasty, it is only now becoming known around the world as a new horticultural resource.

Dragonfruits grows on a cactus that looks like a tree and is about 4-6 m tall. Most of the fruit that is picked today comes from wild populations and is thought to be “in the process of being domesticated”. The fruit is small, about 3–5 cm in diameter and weighs 20–25 g. It looks like a small purple pineapple and has scales that are like paper.

Fruit production peaks twice a year, once in May-June and again in August-September. Production is not in sync. In the wild, there can be more than 100 plants per hectare.

The pulp is purple and can be eaten. It tastes sweet and sour and sometimes has a tomato-like aftertaste. They are also used to make ice cream and jam. You can also make juice from them. It tastes sour and sweet, kind of like blueberries or gooseberries. The 15 mm long black seeds of jiotilla have a wide base called a hilum and a rough seed coat.

Because the fruit grows at different times, it has an 85% chance of being ripe from the time it is fertilized until the end of its production season in August, which starts at the end of May.

Jiotilla has been sold in local markets for a long time, and nothing important has changed in a long time. Women sell fruit in baskets outside the traditional markets of middle-side cities, which aren’t too far from where the fruit is grown.

The making of jiotilla starts in April and goes on until the end of August or even the beginning of September. During this time, there are two production peaks: the first in May-June and the second in August.

Ripe jiotilla fruit photo


As we’ve already said, Jiotilla plants aren’t really grown. Instead, Jiotilla is collected with a “chicolo”, which is a long reed stick with a basket at the top. Since fruits are usually picked from a high spot on the tree, this tool acts as a cushion to keep them from getting bruised. Then, the fruits are put in a basket and put in the shade.

So, people pull the fruit off the plant when they think it’s ready. If the fruit comes off easily, it’s a good sign that it’s ripe. However, because there isn’t a good maturity and harvest index, it’s not uncommon for the spines around the fertile areole to be Since goat cattle production is one of the main economic systems in this area, Jiotilla-fruit collection is done while the goats are grazing. Buckets are used to gather the fruits.

There is no way to tell the difference between ripe and unripe fruits with a harvest index.

Color isn’t always a good way to tell if something is ripe. This is because the peel and pulp of jiotilla contain pigments called betalains and betaxantins, whose production is sped up by light. Because of this, a fruit’s color depends more on where it is on the plant than on how old it is. Sensory evaluation showed that there was a difference between color and taste, since panelists found bad flavors in some purple fruits (which locals call “frutos llegados”) and good flavors in some green fruits (which locals call “camahuas”). As measured by the sugar/acidity balance, chemical parameters also showed differences between color and maturity stages.

Microscopy studies show how the structure of a fruit changes as it grows. This is one of the best ways to get an accurate harvest index. But there are no practical ways to measure them in the field, so they need to be correlated with other things that can be seen more easily. Fruit size (fullness) is the most useful and objective harvest index that correlates with microscopy studies. This is because soluble solids (such as simple sugars, organic acids, and minerals) make the fruit more dense, as shown by a water test where ripe fruits sank and unripe fruits floated.

Growth of plants

It can grow in light (sandy), medium (loamy), and heavy (clay) soils. Not only that, but it likes soil that drains well and can grow in soil that doesn’t have much nutrition. Soils that are slightly acidic, neutral, or basic (slightly alkaline) are good. It can grow in light woodland or in full sun. It likes either dry or wet soil, and it can survive drought.

Michael Gorelov
Michael Gorelov
In the lab, up to 90% of seeds sprout within three months of being planted, but in the field, seeds do not sprout until 21 days after being planted.

These different results show that a type of induced dormancy might be a natural part of the plant’s growth.

We don’t know much about how this cactus grows from a seed yet. Even though jiotilla trees are common in semiarid parts of Oaxaca, it is hard to find seedlings and small plants.

Because Escontria is so common in nature, there is no information about how it is sown or how it grows. Most of the traditional exploitation happens when peasants pick ripe fruits.

Plant facts

  • This plant is the only one of its kind in Mexico. It lives in the xerophytic scrubs and shrublands of Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán;
  • To give this plant more nutrients, you should repot it every year or when it doubles in size, whichever comes first;
  • It occurs in areas with a temperature of 25°C and a rainfall of 1,340 mm;
  • It is a tree-shaped cactus that grows up to 7 meters high;
  • It has a pH of 4.2 and a Brix of 10–12;
  • This plant grows best in dry soil and should only get a little water;
  • Chiotilla can’t grow in low light.


Jiotilla has the potential to be a very useful plant for gardening if it is handled and stored correctly. This dragon fruit variety is a good plant because it is juicy, has a unique taste, is good for your health because it has antioxidant pigments and fiber, and is easy to grow.

Even though there is a lot of jiotilla in some parts of Mexico, it cannot support a whole economy on its own. Instead, this plant needs to be paired with other commercial plants that can help farmers make money when jiotilla isn’t in season.

More research into how to choose trees that produce more fruit and have a better taste would be helpful.


What is Escontria chiotilla?

It is endemic to Mexico, where it is found in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Puebla.
How can I keep Escontria chiotilla healthy?

To keep the plant healthy, it is important to provide the plant with well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. The plant should be watered regularly, but allowed to dry out between waterings. Fertilize it monthly during the growing season.
What are the benefits?
There are many benefits to Escontria chiotilla, including its ability to improve digestion, relieve constipation, and help with weight loss.
Where can I buy this plant?

You can buy it at most nurseries and garden centers.
Anna Gorelova
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Exotic fruits and vegetables
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  1. Buyte

    When I was in Mexico, I was able to enjoy this fruit. Too bad I couldn’t take it home (they wouldn’t let me through customs). It would have been cool to try to cultivate it here as well.