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.


Mark and Gaz said...

They're fun and easy to grow. Started off early in a warm greenhouse or conservatory late winter, you can have a decent sized plant already by mid summer. Can be a good bedding plant :)

David The Good said...

Love the photos and commentary.

My papayas seem to take a long, long time to ripen. Of course, I have no idea what types I'm growing... just planted seeds from various store papaya at different time and transplanted the resulting plants along my back wall. We're really borderline up here, being near Gainesville, but I still get a few papaya each year before the frosts shear the trees down. I can't imagine having one with a 4.5' circumference trunk. Amazing.

Unknown said...

You have an amazing papaya plant there. I've never come across such a large tree with multiple branches. Hear in the tropics, we chopped them down when they become too tall to harvest the fruits. Besides, the fruits become smaller as the tree aged.

Grower Jim said...

Mark and Gaz: Yes, you'd think more people would be growing them!

Survival Gardener: They're worth growing even if you only get a few fruits each year. Young plants with single trunks take up very little space in the garden.

Stiletto: I have a very long fruit picker for harvesting the papayas and I still get nice sized fruits! These have always been in the 1-2 lb. range, but maybe the really big fruiting varieties show more of a decrease in size as they age.

Sheri - Creative Spaces Landscaping said...

My Dad's friend gave him a few young papaya plants to put in his backyard since he loves papaya. I'm not a big fan of the flavor but I actually like this variety. It's not as pungent smelling & tasting as some can be and the flesh is lighter salmon colored than most. Not sure what the variety but now I am growing them in my yard here in Pompano. I wish more people liked the fruit because they are some of the easiest fruit to grow! I had no idea that they lived that long and they can be multi-branched. Very cool! Thanks for a great post Jim! Hope all your papaya didn't get blown down from Hurricane Sandy.

Happy Gardening and best wishes,


lotusleaf said...

Like Stiletto says, I have also noticed that the fruit become smaller when the tree grows very tall.