Plant Database forum: Pitayas and pitahayas

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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
Cactus and Succulents Seed Starter Foliage Fan Xeriscape Container Gardener Hummingbirder
Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Region: Mexico Plant Identifier Forum moderator Plant Database Moderator
Jan 6, 2018 1:54 PM CST
Some notes here about a Spanish common name that apparently has 2 spellings, though they are not interchangeable. I was hoping maybe we could resolve them and would welcome input especially from native speakers. This post is detailed so that maybe it could be useful as a point of reference down the road.

Here are the plants in question: pitaya and pitahaya.

The two words are pronounced nearly the same in Spanish (the H is silent, so the A sort of repeats itself). They refer to the fruit of a cactus. The word "pitayo" would be a related term for the plant itself (just like "manzana" is apple, and "manzano" is apple tree) but in common usage the word for the fruit is used for the plant.

We have a native cactus (Stenocereus gummosus) which is generally called the "pitaya agria" or sour pitaya, to distinguish it from the "pitaya dulce" or sweet pitaya (other Stenocereus spp.) that grow further south. That's about as wide as the pitaya net goes in regular use locally before it starts referring to nearly any cactus. The fruit is spiny with red flesh.

Now the word "pitahaya" apparently refers to Hylocereus specifically as opposed to Stenocereus. At least according to Wikipedia. Those fruit do not have spines and the flesh is white.

Here is a page on the subject from the Mexican government.


In the plant database pitaya and pitahaya do not follow these rules in their usage. For example:

Pitaya (46 plants total) is used for 29 Hylocereus plants (among various other cacti).
Pitahaya (9 plants total) is used for 4 Stenocereus plants in the database (among various other cacti).

Now I don't think it would necessarily be helpful to touch cacti outside those two genera, but maybe it would be helpful to normalize the spelling of their common names in the database, so that Stenocereus is called Pitaya and Hylocereus is called Pitahaya. This could be done in addition to the existing names, or instead of them. The minimum change would be to simply remove "pitahaya" from the 4 Stenocereus plants.

Any thoughts? Smiling

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