Cactus pear and pitaya: fruit production and orchard management

ISHS Secretariat
Cactus pear and pitaya: fruit production and orchard management

Dr. Milena Oliveira holds a PhD in Agronomy from the Federal University of Ceará (UFC), an MSc in Plant Physiology from the Federal University of Viçosa, and a BSc in Agronomy Engineering from UFC, Brazil. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Israel, under the supervision of Prof. Noemi Tel-Zur. Milena has expertise in plant physiology, biochemistry, postharvest, and molecular biology for dryland agriculture. Since the completion of her PhD, she has studied Cactaceae species as alternative fruit crop for dryland agriculture. Cactaceae species such as cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica Mill.) and pitayas (Hylocereus sp.) are major crops that can thrive in dry, even desert conditions, making their cultivation particularly valuable in marginal and subsistence agriculture economies. In view of their commercial exploitation under a wide range of environmental conditions that directly influence productivity and fruit quality, large crop performance differences are observed. Pitayas are native to shaded regions of the Americas with the optimum growth temperature ranging between 20 and 30°C. However, due to commercial exploitation, these species are farmed outside of their native area, in open fields under high solar radiation and high temperatures, conditions that are markedly different from their natural conditions. Milena has focused on strategies to cope with high solar radiation and high-temperature stress on several Hylocereus species and hybrids. During her PhD she studied the effects caused by high solar radiation on red pitaya (H. costaricensis), using shading as a strategy to cope with the stress, in the northeastern semiarid region of Brazil. The results showed improved physiological performance, productivity, and postharvest quality of red pitaya under 35-50% shade. In Israel, Milena has studied the performance of several Hylocereus species and hybrids as a strategy for tolerance to high temperature. The findings revealed that most of the hybrids, developed by the BGU breeding program of pitaya, performed better than their parental species, being suitable for cultivation in heat-challenging regions. Herein, knowledge of orchard management of cactus as crop is imperative to provide insight to improve yield, fruit quality, and dissemination of growing protocols, especially in dryland agriculture.

Milena Maria Tomaz De Oliveira won the ISHS Young Minds Award for the best oral presentation at the X International Congress on Cactus Pear and Cochineal in Brazil in September 2022.

Milena Maria Tomaz De Oliveira, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Sde Boker campus, 849000 Midreshet Ben-Gurion, Israel, e-mail:

The article is available in Chronica Horticulturae

cactus pear
Young Minds Award Winners