Papaya plant characteristics

Carica papaya

Characteristics of papaya plant

Common English names: papaya, pawpaw, papaw

Common name in other languages:

Papayas in a market

Papayas in a market

- Spanish / Castellano: papayo, árbol del melón (plant); papaya, papayón, melón zapote, melón del trópico, fruta bomba o lechosa (fruit).
- Catalan / Català: Papaia (plant and fruit)
- Galician / Galego: Papaia,papaieira, papaio
- Portuguese / Português: Papaia,ababaia,mamão
- Basque / Euskara: Papaia
- Italian / Italiano: Papaya, papaia
- French / Français: Papayer, papaye
- German / Deutsch: Papaya, Melonenbaum,Papayabau
- Dutch / Nederlands: papaja
- Danish / Dansk: Melontræ
- Polish/ Polski: Melonowiec właściwy
- Norwegian /Norsk bokmål: Papaya
- Finnish /Suomi: Papaija
- Swedish /Svenska: Papaya
- Turkish / Türkçe: Papaya
- Русский / Russian: Папайя

Scientific name: Carica papaya L.

Family: Caricaceae

Habitat. Where do papayas grow?

Originally from Central America, some authors claim that of South America.

Distribution: The papayas were exported to all of South America by the Spanish and Portuguese colonists in the sixteenth century. It was the first who mentioned the existence of this fruit for the first time in written texts. Today it is widespread in all tropical and subtropical countries.

Description of papaya plant

papaya flowers

Photo of papaya flowers

Papayas are the fruits of papaya (Carica papaya). They are plants that can reach up to 9 m in height when grown, but which seldom exceed 2 m in the wild. They can not be considered trees because they do not contain wood (xylem). Also called papaw, or pawpaw, they are plants of the Caricaceae family that includes about 70 species.

A papaya tree has got a hollow stem, dark green or purple, with no branches except a few ones that are born at the top, reminding those of palms. The plant, when broken, exudes latex.

The leaves are palmate-composite, alternate, till 80 cm in length from which the petiole is about half a meter long.

In the wild, a papaya is a dioecious plant, meaning that there are male trees and female trees, however cultivation has achieved hermaphrodite trees. Male trees produce tubular yellow flowers in panicles 10 cm long with flower stems up to 50 cm in length. The flowers of the female trees are very succulent and have short stems. They can grow solitary in leaf axils.

How are papaya fruits like?

From the axils of the leaves, the hanging fruits grow, forming dense clusters. Each fruit can reach 70 cm in length and weight up to nine kilos, but more often in the markets of non-producing countries one uses to find pieces from almost half a kilo to a kilo.

The fruits are berries with a very tasty meat. Inside them, we find the black seeds surrounded by a gelatinous layer. This fruit is rich in sugars, fiber, beta carotene and contains papain, a proteolytic enzyme that helps digestion. Papaya pulp is yellow flesh or salmon.

Papaya fruit is usually like a French melon, where it comes the English family name of "tree melon"

There are varieties that resemble bananas or pears. In Latin America this tree is also known as tree melon and the papaya fruit is called melon sapote, tropical melon or lechosa (lechosa = milky). Papayas generally have a sweet taste that may vary from one species to another flavor with a hint of musk.

Papayos are very curious trees that can change sex quickly. These changes can respond to both seasonal factors and human actions. Thus, for example, the branches born from specimens that were males whose trunks were cut from above can produce female flowers after re-sprouting. The very high summer temperatures can give birth to flowers. There are certain varieties that produce flowers of different sexes on the same foot throughout the year.

The production of papayas in the world

Papayas were exported throughout Southern America by the Spanish and Portuguese in the sixteenth century. They were the first to mention the existence of this fruit for the first time in written texts.

Today, its cultivation is widespread in all tropical and subtropical countries.

Of all the most common species, Carica papaya is the most exported species to most Western countries. Although this species comes from the south of Mexico, it can be grown in Central America, South America, Africa, Florida, India and Thailand.

The main countries that export papaya to Europe are Brazil, Costa Rica, United States (Hawaii Island) and Thailand. Other producing countries are India, China, Peru and Mozambique.

The most appreciated variety is called "Solo" (=only) with a very sweet flesh. The name "Solo" refers to the idea that this fruit should be eaten alone, with no other fruits accompanying it. The second most important variety is "Bahia" having a more acidic taste.

Types of papayas

papaya fruit
Photo of papaya fruits

According to their size and shape they are classified in two types:

  • Hawaiian type: They are the most that are exported and consumed throughout the world. They have the shape of a pear and an approximate weight of half a kilo. Its fruits have clearly yellow flesh when they are ripe. They grow of low trees that are very easy to grow. They present small nuggets.

  • Mexican type: they are larger and more elongated, weighing more than 4 kg and up to almost 40 cm. of length. The flesh, in addition to yellow, can also be pink or orange. Its taste is not as sweet as the Hawaiian type.

Which are the best papayas?

The best papayas are those that have been collected well ripe from the plant as they have higher sugar content and, above all, they are richer in aromas. This is a fruit that does last for long after it has been cut from the tree, so it is collected when unripe if it has to be exported.

Species that are green and have not stopped growing can be cooked as if they were zucchini.

Being tropical plants, they can produce fruit throughout the year, so we have them whenever we want. Gradually, this fruit is no longer considered as an exotic fruit and can be seen more frequently in the markets in any season but its peak production is in early summer and autumn.

Types and species of papayas

According to their size and shape, papayas are classified into two types:

- Hawaiian type: They are the most widely exported and consumed worldwide. They are shaped like pears, weighing about half a kilo. Their fruits show a clearly yellow flesh when ripe. Trees are small and very easy to grow. They have small seeds.

- Mexican type: The produce larger and more elongated papayas, weighing more than four kilos and almost 40 cm in length. Their meat, in addition to yellow, can also be pink or orange. Their flavor is not as sweet as in Hawaiian types.

Other types of of papayas

Besides the milky papaya (Carica papaya), the main papaya species are:

- Mountain Papaya (Carica pubescens): It grows in tropical mountains, being smaller than the last.

- Wild Papaya (Carica goudiotana) In can adapt to no so warm climates. Its yellow seeds are toxic.

- Babaco (Carica pentagona) is shaped like a cucumber. It has been adapted to non-tropical areas of Europe. It lacks seeds and its skin can also be eaten.

- Chamburo (Carica estipulata) Very abundant in the wild in Ecuador, although it can be easily grown from cuttings. in humid climates where the sun is not so strong.

- Higicho (Carica chrysophyla)

- Myth (Carica candidans) A type of papaya that grows wild in the Peruvian steppe.

- "Higuera de monte", Oak leaved papaya (Carica quercifolia) It looks like the fig tree by the shape of its leaves. The fruits have lower quality than the milky papaya.

Other species that are not used as often are

Carica candamarcensis
Carica cauliflora
Carica cestriflora
Carica chiriquensis
Carica chrysophylla
Carica citriformis
Carica cundimarcensis
Carica glandulosa
Carica gracilis
Carica microcarpa
Carica monoica
Carica omnilingua
Carica parviflora
Carica peltata
Carica platanifolia
Carica posopora
Carica stipulata
Carica triloba
Carica tunariensis

punto rojo More information on papaya.

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Botanical-online is an informative page that describes, among other topics, the traditional uses of plants from a therapeutic point of view. Their descriptions do not replace professional advice. Botanical-online is not responsible for self-medication and recommends consulting with the physician.