The Tropical Green Thumb 1: Papaya Carica
By Claudia Tolentino
Introduced to the world by the Europeans in the 1600ís, the papaya tree is native to Southern Mexico and the Caribbean. Papaya, which can reach a height of 25feet, is extremely easy to cultivate. The tree does not have branches; rather, it has leaves that grow from a 20 inch hollow stem. The flowers, cream to yellow in color, as well as the fruit grow from close to the trunk.
There are several varieties of Papaya with different sized fruits with flesh ranging in color from yellow to salmon. The fruit is edible and there are quite a few options of preparation, including freshly cut with squeezed lime or in its own juice. Taken in excess, Papaya can act as a purgative, but a slice every day is beneficial for the digestive system due to the presence of an enzyme, Papain, in the fruit.
Papain is a milky latex used in beer clarifiers, meat tenderizers, and digestion aids. A slice can be applied to wounds, cuts, and infections to aid healing. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and it contains 16% more vitamin C per serving that oranges.
Propagation: Papaya is grown from the seed. Dry seeds can be stored for over a year, and fresh seeds will usually germinate in 10 to 14 days. It can grow in almost any kind of soil as long as proper drainage is provided. One can expect to harvest their first papaya 9 to 14 months after planting.
Beliefs: Many Mexican fruit growers, especially in the central states, believe that on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, they need to threaten, scare, or even physically abuse these fruit trees with a stick or rope in order to ensure an abundant harvest.