USA: Acadiana Home to Dragon Fruit Nursery


Never heard of Acadiana’s exotic dragon fruit nursery? You’re not alone.

 

 

Even if you knew what to look for and where to find it, you’d still probably miss it.

 

The fruit farm hides behind an ordinary house on La. 347 between Breaux Bridge and Parks.

 

But if you stumbled upon the right place, Tye Miller might welcome you into his home, where the interior contemporary furnishings contrast the house’s traditional brick exterior. You’d probably notice the electric guitars on display in the living room. You’d discover that one room has been transformed into a hockey rink.

 

Miller, 44, might show you the exotic paradise in his backyard where pineapples, bananas, passion fruits and more than 50 varieties of dragon fruit grow.

 

Why You’ve Never Heard of It

Miller isn’t your average exotic-fruit-growing dad.

 

By day, he manages an information technology company. By night, he’s an ice hockey player and exotic fruit farmer.

 

“You’re not going to come to Louisiana and find somebody else with a hockey room in the house and dragon fruit plants in the backyard,” Miller said with a laugh.

 

Although he has sold thousands of plant cuttings through his business, Spicy Exotics, it remains a relatively small, home-based operation few locals know about.

 

Miller’s background in IT made selling online the more natural option over selling locally at farmers markets.

 

“We did a reverse selling process where we started selling globally before we actually tried the local market,” Miller said. “And to our surprise, there are lots of local people who heard about the plant but never had the opportunity to see it. Who would have thought the business would have had any interest locally?”

What is a dragonfruit, anyway?

Hylocereus fruit is most commonly known as dragon fruit, especially in the United States and Asia. It is also called pitaya in Mexico, Central America and South America.

 

The fruit grows on a vining cactus plant that is native to Mexico.

 

Dragon fruit has a sweet, creamy flavor similar to that of a mango with a texture similar to kiwi because of its crunchy, black seeds.

 

“I would say it’s like a cross between a kiwi and a strawberry but better,” Hernandez said. “My son fell in love with one of the varieties that is so sweet and creamy that it’s almost like ice cream.”

 

You can find dragon fruit from time to time at a few Acadiana grocery stores, but the fruit doesn’t come cheap. It can cost as much as $10 per pound, which is about the weight of one dragon fruit.

 

Dragon fruit is a source of antioxidants, vitamin C, good fatty acids, B vitamins, carotene and protein.

 

Why grow dragon fruit in Lousiana?

Miller never intended to start an exotic plant business. It began as a hobby because of his love for exotic fruits.

 

Miller figured that south Louisiana’s weather isn’t so different from that of Mexico and Southeast Asia, where dragon fruit is plentiful and popular, so he might be able to grow it in his backyard.

 

He purchased his first variety of dragon fruit, Physical Graffiti, from a local nursery less than 10 years ago.

 

The plant grew quickly with little effort. He protected the vining cactus plant from frosts and freezes in a greenhouse. Using a paintbrush, he pollinated the night-blooming flowers on the plant by dusting pollen from one flower onto another flower.

 

Miller broke off pieces of the plant to encourage growth and shape the plant. He wondered if he could sell the plant cuttings online instead of adding them to his compost pile.

 

The cuttings sold immediately. That was in 2009.

 

“I really don’t understand why dragon fruit hasn’t spread quicker than it has,” Miller said. “Maybe it just stayed natively where it was, and it’s just been hidden. But I can tell you that anyone and everyone who sees it is intrigued.”

 

Miller planted more varieties of dragon fruit and began cross-pollinating to create new varieties. Because the vining cactuses produce fruit quickly — within a year or two of planting — it’s easy to experiment.

 

Where Spice Exotics is now?

Even though Miller has been selling his excess plant material online for years, he didn’t make his exotic plant business a priority until 2014.

 

“I had a goal,” Miller said. “And that goal was to make it the best dragon fruit website in the world. And I think I might be there today.”

 

But Miller didn’t realize the Spicy Exotics name might confuse some people.

 

“I get a lot of people who haven’t had a dragon fruit before who look at the name of the business and ask ‘Is it spicy?’” Miller said. “I’m part of a network of other IT companies, and when I post information on being affiliated with Spicy Exotics, they think I’m involved in the porn industry.”

 

Spicy Exotics’ name comes from the email domain spicymiller.com that Miller created for his family to use instead of traditional email domains such as hotmail.com or gmail.com.

 

And even with an unusual business name, plant sales have doubled each year from 2014 to 2016.

 

Miller sold about 400 plants worth $10,000 in 2016 through Spicy Exotics compared to 200 plants worth $5,000 in 2015 and 100 plants worth $2,500 in 2014.

 

Where Spice Exotics is going?

 

Miller plans to move his exotic fruit nursery to a larger piece of land in the Breaux Bridge area so he can produce enough fruit to sell it.

 

Local chefs and bartenders who came across Spicy Exotics at the farmers market have shown interest in purchasing dragon fruit from Miller when it’s in season.

 

“I need more property,” Miller said. “And I’m looking to plant just one or two of the varieties that produce the most fruit possible so we can provide locally back to the community.”

 

Master Gardeners that Miller met through the farmers market have also shown interest in learning more about growing dragon fruit in south Louisiana.

 

“You have people who have dedicated their lives to growing plants, and they were blown away by this,” Miller said. “Some didn’t even know dragon fruit existed. So at that point, I said to myself, ‘I knew this is unique, but I thought once you were a plant doctor, you knew everything about everything.’ That wasn’t the case. Everyone was equally fascinated.”

Miller plans to build a “massive” greenhouse for growing fruit instead of his current small-scale setup for growing plant materials.

 

He expects to have enough fruit to begin selling locally within two years.

 

Spicy Exotics will still continue to have a strong online presence and plant-selling operation.

 

“My main goal was to be recognized as a go-to person when it comes to dragon fruit,” Miller said.

 

“I have a good product I believe in. I have a lot of information, and I’d like to make the public aware of what’s available when all they’ve ever seen is that $10 fruit that’s in the grocery store. It’s not fair to the fruit when you can get something much better and even grow it yourself even if you don’t have a green thumb.”

 

Sourced from the advertiser, written by Megan Wyatt




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