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 environment.
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
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.
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 drainage.
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 weighs 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 weighs 4-6 lbs.
'Tainung #5' Grows to 10' tall. Self-fruitful. Red flesh. Fruit
weighs 3-5 lbs.
'TR Hovey' Grows 6-8' tall and 4-6' wide. Self-fruitful. Reddish-orange
flesh. Fruit weighs 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 composted manure. 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 can be killed by freezing or overwatering in cool months.
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