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Sunday, September 13, 2009

After Going Bananas, I'm Doing PAPAYAS

Papaya trees are a common sight here in Malaysia. You can find them everywhere, in the cities as well as in rural areas. We plant them at home too and they also grow wild, even in the most unexpected places like next to a drainage pipe, rubbish dump, in between concrete, in abandon buildings, etc. The papaya, together with the banana, lemongrass, gingers, pandan, coconut and other palms makes a typical picture of our tropical landscape. These are the native plants that share the land with us here in this part of the world.

According to Wikipedia, papayas are believed to be native to Southern Mexico and Central America. Now they have become the natives of many tropical countries too.

“After Going Bananas, I'm Doing PAPAYAS”, a copyrighted post, was written for My Nice Garden blog by Autumn Belle @ on September 13, 2009.

The fruits are green when unripe and yellow when riped. We use the unriped papayas to make pickles which are eaten as snacks or added to salads. Chinese people also use them to make herbal soups to promote wellness.

Riped papayas are sweet and tasty. They are also rich in vitamins, particularly A & C. It is fat free, cholesterol free and low in sodium. We ladies think that it will help us maintain a good complexion with less pimples and breakouts. In my personal opinion, I think they are good for my eyes too.

I want to see for myself whether it is that easy to grow papayas. After eating papaya, I retained some seeds and sow them in the soil.

When I was little, we use to have a little orchard in our house where we planted jackfruit, sugar cane, tapioca, papayas, mango, quinine mango and rambutans. Dad would retain some papaya seeds for planting when he chance upon a sweet and tasty papaya. He taught me to take the seeds from the centre portion, not the head or tail section of the papaya. He said that these seeds are more hardy and will most likely give rise to healthy plants that bears tasty papayas.

After a few days to a week, the seeds started to germinate and almost all of them did. The picture above shows some young papaya plants around a few weeks old.

At the ditch garden here, some of the papaya plants are starting to bear flowers. They are more than 5 ft tall now. Let me show you the papaya flowers.

There are 3 types of papaya flowers; male, female and hermaphrodite/bisexual. Female flowers are supposed to have a large bulging ovary, with prominent stigma but no stamens. They will not form fruit unless pollinated. The hermaphrodite flowers are more cylindrical and they have both ovaries and stamens. They can self-pollinate. These are the flowers growers like to have. Male flowers are more slender and their petals fuse at the base. They cannot develope into fruit. This is according to information obtained from the article titles, "Why Some Papaya Plants Fail To Fruit", by CL Chia and Richard M Manshardt, from the University of Hawaii, here.

Hermaphrodite papaya flower

This looks like a bisexual/hermaphrodite flower with slender, cylindrical bud. This papaya tree has 2 branches. The main branch has quite a number of fruits. This smaller branch seems to have many flowers.
It seems that some plants bears female, male as well as hermaphrodite flowers while others bear only the male or female flowers. Many years ago, I had planted a papaya plant that bore only male flowers and there were no papayas for me. So my papaya venture ended then with no papaya fruits to taste.

Female papaya flower
This certainly look like a female flower judging by its bulge. Like a pregnant lady?

I think pollination has been successful and a fruit is forming here. I was talking to an Indonesian maid recently when she told me about her orchard in Jawa, Indonesia. She told me that when they grow papayas, they will grow many of them. When the plants are about 3 ft or so, flowering will start and by the look of the flowers, the planters will know what kind of tree. In this way they can identify the male tree and pull if out. Of course, they would very much prefer the tree that bears hemaphrodite flowers. This entreprising lady uses compost from dead plants in her orchard.

Other parts of the papaya plant are useful too. Their flowers and leaves are used in cooking and eaten by some people. Papain, an enzyme from green papayas and the tree's latex are incorporated into the making of meat tenderizers. My mum had taught me how to use crushed papaya leaves to clean the insides of pig stomachs before we use it to boil herbal soups. She said the latex from the leaves aids in easy cleaning and helps to soften the stomach.

Do you have any information or stories that you'd like to share about the papaya?

Updated 10 Sep 2011:
On 31 Aug 2011, The Star newspaper published an article titled, "Doc: Papaya leaves can cure dengue". To read more, click here.

Updated 13 Apr 2014

This is how the male papaya tree and flowers look like.

Male papaya flowers

My article about papaya tree was published in New Straits Times Press on 2nd April 2011, read more here.


  1. Autumn Belle,
    I wish I had info about papaya to share. I learned a lot from your post. It sounds like a very healthy fruit and the blossoms are prettier than I expected.

  2. Haha, I love the name of this post. Great read about papayas! Good luck!

  3. Kakdah has used papaya leaves and young fruits to tenderise tough meat... It must be the white latex in it... ~bangchik

  4. 1) I came to know that the orang asli (natives) use the tender papaya leaf shoots juice for the cure of denggi fever.
    But be warned that those little tender shoots are very bitter!!

    2) Other uses - the papaya leaf stalk is hollow and I had used it when I young to do art & craft. (Paint the hollow tip and press it on the paper - also with those unique shaped leaves.)

    3) Finally would love to share a receipe - blend papaya, mango and red watermelon separately and serve in a tall glass placing the red, orange and yellow tones - (pour it slowly as they would stay on top of each other) look very classy to serve the friut juice.

  5. Autumn,
    this is a very nice and complete post. I have a >7 feet tall plumeria tree in a, do you think I should try growing a papaya tree in a large container?

  6. Hi Autumn Belle,

    Your papaya tree looks very well taken care of, how I wish you could share with me some of your papaya seedling. I've a big garden in my USJ S'Jaya studio but no fruit tree and flowering plant. Your pineapple plant look cute.

  7. Hallo Autumn Belle,
    It's fascinating to see the progress from fruit, to seedlings, to flowers. All the pleasure of gardening in one post. Mmmmm memories of green papaya salad, pounded in a mortar in front of me with moo yang cooking over charcoal.

  8. Rosey, many of us ladies here swear by the goodness of the papaya fruit. Moreover it is so easy to eat, just cut it open and scoop the flesh with a spoon.

    Meredith, thank you for your lovely comments.

    Bangchik, that reminds me to use some papaya leaves the next time I want to cook some steaks.

    James, Oh a cure for dengue fever! That’s good. If it can cure dengue fever, the bitter taste is tolerable. Yes, the art and craft using papaya leaf stalk. That reminds me of the okra and hibiscus leaf too. I learnt that during art period at elementary school. It was great fun. Thank you so much for the juice recipe. It sure is a healthy drink.

    Urban green, I have never grown a papaya tree in a container before but I think it is worth a try. In fact, that is exactly what I’m thinking of doing. The challenge will be whether it is possible to bear fruit.

    June, the papaya tree doesn’t belong to me. It is from the ditch garden in my neighbourhood. Mine are still seedlings. The next time you eat a good papaya, remember to retain some seeds from the centre portion and sprinkle it onto the soil. They will germinate. Wow, it would be great with a big garden like yours to work on. I have 3 pineapple plants growing from containers. They are not in bloom now but they have borne me pineapples for a few rounds already.

    Yan, welcome here and I’m glad the papayas bring back some fond memories.

  9. Very interesting and informative article. I love papaya and wish I could grow some here. I do not have a green thumb.

  10. So interesting to read about the papaya in your country. And again, the ditch gardening is fantastic.

    Sometimes we are lucky and get a ripe papaya but many times, they don't taste that good in our grocery stores. Such a wonderful flavor, too.

    In America, people use papaya for stomach complaints. It is supposed to help with indigestion. Many people even use chewable tablets. I have tasted them -- camdu sweet with the papaya flavor!

    Thanks for such a nice article with the great photos.

  11. I've only eaten dried papaya: tasty. I bought a papaya fruit in the grocery, it was either too ripe or too green, terrible taste. Interesting, all the uses mentioned here for papaya.

    I can only grow the tropicals that stand cold to about 15F or are small enough to move into a small greenhouse. Trees are not in my ability, but lemongrass and most gingers return readily here.

    James' recipe for layered juices sounds beautiful.

  12. I'm glad Lynn mentioned this. I was pretty sure it was papaya, but not positive. Anyway, my sister spent a thanksgiving with some vegetarian californian friends who passed around a bottle of papaya enzyme pills in the middle of their vegetarian thanksgiving feast.

    What an interesting post! Can you hand pollinate if necessary?

  13. This is so cool! I've never seen a papaya plant before, although I've eaten them! Congrats on yours. It looks like sweet success!

  14. Papaya is one of my favourite local fruits. But it is difficult to know the taste till we eat them unless we buy the eksotica varieties - crossed with the hawaiian solo. Then sweetness is assured.

  15. Poetic Shutterbug, papaya is easy to grow here because our climate is very suitable for it. It is just like how we drool and envy your sweet, tasty plums and peaches but we cannot grown them successfully here too.

    LynnS, thank you so much for the information about the chewable tablets for indigestion. I wonder if they sell this here and I will check this out.

    Nell, I like to eat dried papaya too. We eat them as snacks or junk food. It is either sweet, sour or salty depending on the manufacturer. I think James’ recipe is healthy too.

    Wendy, you have a very good question about hand pollination. I’m not really sure how papaya flowers are pollinated. The flowers are quite small and look so fragile, I do worry that the petals might just drop off when touched.

    Daisy, the papaya is a native here and shares the land with us. Now that you have seen the tree, I guess you can agree with me that this tree looks rather unique.

    Sunshine Girl, eksotica it is. Even the name sounds good.

  16. Hello, i stopped for some visitors and came back with your blog still open so i might as well continue. You're very good with words.

    I am sorry to correct some information about the papaya. A plant is either male, female or hermaphrodite. Male when flower stalks are branching, female when alone and big, hermaphrodite when there's a big female one and few smaller lower male ones. Farmers dont prefer the hermaphrodite because fruits are shaped elongated and smaller, rather they like the female because fruits are robust, roundish and big, will be heavier and they have more income. Of course, you know how male flowers become.

  17. Andrea, thank you very much for the corrections that you have pointed out. I really appreciate it as I take this as a great opportunity for improvement.


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