Carica - Melon Tree, Papaya, Pawpaw
DESCRIPTION: This group consists of about 25 species of semi-succulent trees native to tropical America. These trees have straight trunks and are topped with palmate leaves.The most popularly grown species is C. papaya, commonly known as the Papaya, Melon Tree (though technically it is a large herb) or Pawpaw (Note: Pawpaw is also the common name of an entirely different fruit called Asimina.) The Papaya is a short-lived, evergreen plant that can grow up to 25 feet high. Its hollow, fleshy, green or purplish trunk is marked with leaf scars. The Papaya rarely branches. The leaves grow in a spiraled cluster directly from the upper part of the stem on horizontal petioles (leaf stalks) 1 to 31/2 feet long. The leaves are deeply divided and range in width from 1 to 2 feet. The life of a leaf is 4 to 6 months. Male and female flowers are produced on different plants, though there are hermaphrodite forms in cultivation as well as forms that bear both male and female flowers on the same plant. The flowers are fleshy and waxy and have a light scent. The blossoms are followed by deliciously edible fruits, which, although technically a berry, resemble melons. They have yellowish, thin skin and yellowish, peach, or orange to orangish-red flesh with a central cavity filled with small, pea-like, black seeds. The fruit tastes like a combination of melons and peaches. Although these trees are grown mainly for their fruit, all parts of the tree contain a latex from which papain, a digestive enzyme, is extracted. Papain breaks down protein in meat to make it tender; therefore Papaya can be used as a meat tenderizer.
POTTING: Papayas need warmth and can be grown in frost-free climates only. Papayas will grow in almost any light, well-drained soil; however, a rich, organic soil that has a pH of 5.5 to 6.7 is preferably. For them to flourish, they should be grown in a very warm, sunny location, which is sheltered from wind. These plants need to be watered carefully. The soil shouldn't be saturated because it will rot the roots, but it should be moist enough to sustain the leaves. In the winter, the soil should be as dry as possible. Apply a fertilizer every month and adjust the amounts given according to the plant's response. Both male and female trees are required for good fruit production. Bisexual trees produce fewer fruits of lesser quality.
Harvest: The Papayas are ready for harvest and taste the best when their skin is 80% colored. When picked, it will ripen completely at room temperature in 2 or 3 days. Unripe Papaya may be eaten as vegetable after peeling and seeding and removing the latex by boiling until tender.
Pest & Diseases: Thrips, White flies, Mites, Red spider mites and fruit spotting bugs can be problems in some areas. Nematodes can attack the roots of Papayas. Fruit flies can destroy fruit in Hawaii and Florida. Mildew, Anthracnose, root rot, and other various diseases can also affect Papayas. It is beneficial to replace Papayas every four years or so.
PROPAGATION: The Papaya may be increased by sowing seeds, which is the usual procedure, or taking hardwood cuttings. Take seeds from a ripe Papaya and wash to remove the slimy coating. Dry them, dust with a fungicide and plant immediately in warm (80º F), sterile potting mix. The soil should be sterile because the seedlings are susceptible to damping off. The soil can be sterilized by mixing 50-50 with vermiculite and placing in an oven at 200º F for an hour. In good conditions, the seedlings should sprout in about two weeks, but may take three to five weeks. The plants usually begin flowering 9 to 12 months after they germinate. Plant the seedlings in large containers so that they will only have to be transplanted once. When they are transferred, make sure not to damage the root ball. To prevent damping off, drench the potting mix with a fungicide containing benomyl or captan. Plant your Papayas a little high in their new home to allow for settling. Set down a plastic mulch to keep the soil warm and dry in wet winter areas, but be sure to remove it as soon as the weather warms. Always plant at least three or four plants to ensure good pollination. Papayas can also be grown from cuttings, which should be hardened off for a few days and then propped up with the tip touching moist, fertile soil until roots grow. Semi-hardwood cuttings planted during the summer will root quickly and should produce fruit the following year.
VARIETIES: There are Solo and Mexican types of Papayas. Solo types are the most popular types in the U.S. They are pear-shaped and about 6 inches long. Mexican Papayas are much larger than Solo types. They can weigh in at over 10 pounds and be about 2 feet long. Mexican types are usually more green than yellow on the outside and are less sweet than Solo Papayas.
Solo types: Kamiya; Solo; Sunrise (Sunrise Solo); Sunset (Sunset Solo); Vista Solo; Waimanalo.
Mexican types: Mexican Red; Mexican Yellow
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