Papaya is a member of the Caricaceae (Papaya) family and the Carica genus. Papaya is the most well
known member of the 22 Carica species.
Form: 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.
Lifespan: 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.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Rapid.
Mature Size: Usually 8-15' high, but can reach 30' in its native
Flowers: 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.
Bloom: Six months after sowing seed. The plant may flower repeatedly
in regions without freezes.
Self-fruitful: 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 without pollination.
Years before fruiting: Plants normally fruit in their first year
in year-round warm climates.
Fruit: 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.
Leaves: Deeply lobed, palmate, with long, hollow stalks. Each leaf
falls off the trunk after 4-6 months as the plant grows.
Stems: 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.
Roots: Shallow. These plants are subject to root rot in wet soils,
especially in winter. Root rot is usually fatal. They do better planted on a mound that provides excellent
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.
'Strawberry' / 'Sunrise' Grows 10-12' tall. Sweet, orange-red
flesh, often considered the best-tasting papaya. Fruit weighs 1.5 lbs. Hawaiian.
'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.
Wildlife: Attracts bees, butterflies, moths, birds.
Toxic / Danger: All parts, except ripe fruit, contain latex sap
which may cause skin rash or allergies in sensitive individuals.
Origin: Central America and Mexico.
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 down to 24°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Water more frequently over 90°F.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat.
Water after becoming established: Water away from the trunk at
the drip line. For young plants, water 1-2' 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.
Soil: Very well draining, native soil, low in organic content.
Papaya are very salt sensitive.
Fertilize: Use compost. Papayas are heavy nitrogen feeders.
Mulch: A thick layer of compost.
Spacing: 5-7' between plants.
Planting: Potted plants suffer transplant shock unless replanted
with great care. The location should have very wet, but well-draining soil. The new plant should be
shaded for 48 hours and well watered. Plant on a mound at least 1' high with a trench about 2' from the
trunk so that the plant can be watered away from the trunk.
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.
Prune: Not necessary.
Litter: Dropped leaves.
Propagation: Seeds, started in the ground (well protected from
critters) rather than in a pot because papaya seedlings do not transplant easily. 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 plants.
Uses: Ornamental, fruit.
Papaya plants are easily killed by freezing or overwatering in cool months.
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