Plant text by Naomi Lacey, feature photo Wikipedia
Common name: Papaya, Pawpaw
Scientific name: Carica papaya
Family, and related species: Caricaceae
Description including form (tree, climber, etc), other similar species
The papaya is a fast-growing, tree-like plant that grows up to 10m with large, bright green leaves spiraling around the main stem that have 7 lobes with jagged edges. The plant does not generally grow branches unless cut back. Each plant can be either male, female or hermaphrodite and produce white flowers which on female and hermaphrodite plants are on a short stalk, and on the male plant form a cluster at the end of a long stalk. The fruit is oval to pear-shaped, green at first through to yellow/orange when ripe with yellow/orange to pink flesh that contains lots of round black seeds.
Role/ characteristics/ use in permaculture
Papaya is a wonderful tasting tropical fruit that can be eaten either green or ripe, raw or cooked, and is a central part of many Asian dishes such as the famous papaya salad from Thailand. It can also be used as a meat tenderiser.
The leaves make great compost or chook food as does excess fruit. Bats and native birds also love the fruit.
Papaya has been used in traditional medicine for its antibacterial properties and to treat malaria, dengue fever, and digestive problems. It also makes a wonderful balm to treat rashes, dry skin, and nappy rash.
Companion plant to bananas and sweet potato so is perfect in banana circles.
Papaya is a great pioneer plant and works well in stacking a system for succession yet planted at the same time eg. Ground cover, papaya, large fruit tree where the papaya will eventually die out as the fruit tree matures.
Ecology and habitat requirements
Prefers to be sheltered from wind in a full sun position with rich, well-draining, organic soils. It is extremely sensitive to frost so needs year-round warmth. Ideal for tropical/sub-tropical gardens. Will benefit well from regular applications of organic fertilisers but will continue to fruit in poorer soils although the fruit will not have quite so much flavour.
Papaya easily develops root rot if overwatered or planted in wet, boggy soils and can also be susceptible to fungus and powdery mildew.
Access to plants
Papaya can be very easily propagated from seed but does not transplant well so is best direct sown into well-prepared soil or in large pots to ensure minimal root disturbance when planted out. Seeds taken from ripe fruit are best when washed and dried prior to planting but will also successfully grow if scraped from the fruit straight into the soil.
Papaya can also be grown from cuttings but this is much more labour intensive than by seed.
In Darwin, seedlings can be purchased readily from the local markets or nurseries.
Norrington, Leonie, 2001, Tropical Food Gardens: A guide to growing fruit, herbs and vegetables, Bloomings Books, Melbourne, Australia
Wikipedia, 2014, Papaya.
California Rare Fruit Growers Inc, 1997, Papaya.
Tropical Permaculture, 2014, Growing Papaya From Seed.