Thursday, October 25, 2012

Carica papaya

Carica papaya is a fast growing tropical herb that produces delicious fruit. Many different strains exist, producing fruit sizes ranging from 1 to 20 pounds. The flesh color also varies from plant to plant and may be yellow, orange or reddish.

Papaya grows rapidly. Under ideal conditions flowers and fruit will be produced the first year from seed, often starting when the plant is only 4-5 feet tall. It takes 3-4 months from flower to mature fruit.

When the skin is mostly yellow it's time to pick the fruit, cut it open, and enjoy! Even the black seeds are edible and have a peppery taste similar to nasturtium.

Mature green fruits may be cooked as a vegetable. A young plant will produce 2-3 ripe fruits per week. Older, branched plants will produce many more.
Leaves are palmate and deeply lobed, often growing more than 2 feet across. In the East Indies, young leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach. Crushed leaves wrapped around a tough cut of meat before cooking will help tenderize it. The milky latex exuded by immature fruits is also collected and used in commercial meat tenderizers.
Old plants form thick trunks that support a branching canopy of foliage. Branching is often stimulated by some injury to the growing tip, such as a light freeze. This 10-year old papaya has a trunk circumference of 4.5 feet at the base.

Carica papaya has a complex sexual morphology. Plants may be male, female or hermaphrodites. All flowers are very fragrant.
female flower
male flower

Papaya is believed to have originated in Central America, but is now cultivated in tropical regions around the world. They are recommended for USDA Zones 10-11, but due to their rapid maturity, can be successfully grown in Zone 9 as well. I have had several plants live more than a decade in my Zone 9B garden. Most references indicate that productivity rapidly declines with age, but I find older, branched specimens produce far more fruit than young, single-trunk plants.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Podranea ricasoliana

Podranea ricasoliana is a vigorous vining plant that blooms throughout the warm months of the year, when the plant is actively growing. The pink flowers appear in clusters on the ends of new growth. Each flower is about 2 inches across and lightly fragrant. Unfortunately the fragrance doesn't travel, so you'll have to stick your nose right into the bloom to catch the scent. There are about 18-20 flowers per cluster, opening several at a time.
Although this is a vining plant, the stems do not twine, grasp, or root onto their supports. Instead, the long flexible stems head skyward and simply lean or lay across supporting objects, which are often adjacent trees or shrubs. It quickly and easily climbs to 30 feet or more. When stems reach the top of a tree they arch over, and either flower or head back to the ground and form another plant.
If no vertical objects are nearby to climb, the stems run across the soil surface until they find a place to climb. Wherever stems contact the soil, they'll send out roots and start a new plant so it's imperative to keep horizontal shoots clipped off. Old plants develop a woody trunk that is deeply furrowed with a corky texture.
Leaves are dark green, pinnate, opposite on the stem, and 6-8 inches in length.
It's unclear where Podranea originated, but it is common in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The plant will grow in nearly any location, surviving heat, drought, and several degrees of frost. Flowering is best in full sun. It is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11, but may survive as a perennial in slightly colder locations.
Common names include pink trumpet vine and Port St. Johns creeper.