A member of the Papaya family (Caricaceae), the Carica genus has 22 species, of
which Papaya is the most well known.
A single-stemmed, succulent, giant herb, taking the form of a palm tree as it grows. It is not
a true tree, merely an overgrown succulent herb.
Up to 25 years. Productivity declines with age and commercial plantations usually replace each
plant after 3 years. In residential settings, plants often last only four years, usually dying
because of overwatering in winter or hard freezes.
Usually 8-15' high, but can reach 30' in its native environment.
Five white to yellow-orange petals, bright yellow stamens, slightly fragrant. Individual plants
have flowers that are only female, only male, or bisexual. Flowers grow on the main trunk just
above a leaf stalk.
Six months after sowing seed. The plant may flower repeatedly in regions without freezes.
Depends on cultivar. Bisexual flowers are self-pollinating. Most female flowers require
pollination from another plant and will shrivel and die if not pollinated. Some female
plants will produce seedless fruit automatically without pollination.
Years before fruiting:
Plants normally fruit in their first year in year-round warm climates.
Smooth skinned, pear, oval, or cylindrical shaped, with red, pink or orange flesh. The fruit
may be seedless or contain large numbers of edible, black seeds that have a peppery taste
when the fruit is ripe. Be warned, many people do not like the taste of this fruit, comparing
it to dirty socks, or worse. The fruit are attached directly to the trunk, or side branches,
of the plant.
Months for fruit to ripen:
4-5 months from flowering. The fruit should be picked when the outside is fully yellow.
Papaya do not ripen significantly after harvesting and should stay on the plant as long as
possible to improve their flavor. Unripe fruit contain latex but can be boiled and eaten
as a vegetable.
Storage after harvest:
Fully ripe papaya last 2-3 days after harvest. Partially colored fruit normally last 5-7 days.
Deeply lobed, palmate, with long, hollow stalks. In warm weather, one new leaf may be formed
weekly. Each leaf falls off the trunk after 4-6 months as the plant grows. Leaf production
stops in cold weather.
The single straight trunk, usually unbranched, is succulent, herbaceous, hollow, and has
scars where fallen leaves were attached. If a plant is top-killed by a freeze, or the top
is cut off, it will grow branches to produce new leaves, flowers and fruit if the root
system is well established. This plant can be damaged by strong winds.
Shallow. These plants are subject to root rot in wet soils, especially in winter. Root rot
is usually fatal. They do best in soil with excellent drainage. The tree can be toppled in
Cultivars of Note:
Papayas can be categorized as Mexican or Hawaiian. The Mexican are better adapted to
hot, dry climates. The Hawaiian papaya fruit are smaller, usually pear shaped, and often
considered better tasting.
'Dwarf Solo' Grows 6-10' tall. Grown from seed,
two-thirds of plants are self-fruitful, one-third are female. Sweet, pink-orange flesh.
Fruit weigh 1-1.5 lbs. Hawaiian.
'Strawberry' / 'Sunrise' Grows 10-12' tall. Sweet,
orange-red flesh, often considered the best-tasting papaya. Fruit weighs 1.5 lbs.
'Red Lady Dwarf' Grows to 10' tall. Self-fruitful.
Orange-red flesh. Fruit weigh 4-6 lbs.
'Tainung #5' Grows to 10' tall. Self-fruitful. Red
flesh. Fruit weigh 3-5 lbs.
'TR Hovey' Grows 6-8' tall and 4-6' wide.
Self-fruitful. Reddish-orange flesh. Fruit weigh 3-4 lbs. Can be grown in a pot.
The flowers attract bees, butterflies and other insects. The fruit attracts birds.
Toxic / Danger:
All parts, except ripe fruit, contain latex sap which may cause skin rash or allergies in
Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones:
10-11. Papayas stop growing below 65°F and young plants are killed below 32°F. Mature
papayas may survive to 24°F.
Water more frequently over 90°F.
Locate this plant in full sun, in well draining soil which can be a 3' diameter mound at least
1' high. Make a trench about 2' from the trunk so that the plant can be watered away from the
trunk, to encourage roots to grow sideways for better stability, instead of down. The location
must have wind protection. Keep away from overhead power lines. Space additional papaya 7-10'
Potted plants suffer transplant shock unless replanted with great care. The planting hole
should be filled with water and the plant placed in immediately after the water drains.
The new plant should be shaded for 48 hours and well watered.
Very well draining, native soil, low in organic content, pH 5-8 (strongly acidic to slightly
alkaline). Papaya are very salt sensitive.
During the growing season: apply organic fertilizer monthly; apply plant micronutrients in
irrigation water every two months.
Water after becoming established:
Water away from the trunk at the drip line. For young plants, water 2' away from the trunk.
The amount of water needed depends on temperature, with temperatures below 70°F needing
much less water. Never flood the root area as this may cause the plant to die before the soil
dries. A primary cause of Papaya plant death is overwatering in cold temperatures.
Apply organic mulch inside the drip line and 8" from the trunk to reduce soil evaporation and
moderate soil temperatures.
First Year Care:
Protect from freezing temperatures by covering in a cloth for the first two winters. The
cloth must reach to the ground. A small heat source such as an incandescent lamp will help
avoid freezing. Provide 50% shade when temperatures are over 90°F.
Remove dead leaves as necessary.
Dropped leaves and ripe fruit.
Start seeds in the ground, well protected from critters, rather than in a pot, because papaya
seedlings do not transplant well. The seedlings must be culled so that only a plant with
bisexual flowers remains if you want only one, or only one male (for better pollination)
to several bisexual and female plants.
Ornamental, edible fruit.
Papaya plants are easily killed by freezing or overwatering in cool months.
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