Story by Russ Grayson, July 2016
Common name: Babaco
Botanical name: Carica pentagona
IF YOU LIVE in a cool microclimate in the subtropics or even as far south as Sydney or the sooth-west of Western Australia, here’s an easy-to-grow fast fruit for your community garden or city farm.
It’s called babaco, and it is a natural hybrid of the pawpaw, a natural cross-species and a native of central-south Ecuador. South America’s central lowlands is the centre of origin of the popular pawpaw, the region from which it was spread to the world’s tropical and subtropical regions.
For community gardeners in the marginal subtropics, babaco will grow at higher and cooler altitudes than pawpaw, up to 2000m, making it the most cold-tolerant plant in its genus. It is tolerant of light to medium shade.
A fine fruit
Babaco looks like pawpaw but its single, softwood trunk, patterned with leaf scars, seldom grows more than two metres in height.
The fruit grows in a cluster from the upper trunk and takes the form of an angled, elongated pawpaw-looking fruit that starts greens and yellows as it ripens. The pale-coloured flesh has a slightly acid, juicy flavour and, like the pawpaw, is eaten raw.
Fruit can be left to yellow and ripen on the plant, however picked fruit, selected as ripening is underway, will also ripen. It is not unknown for fruit to fall from the trunk and bruise.
Babaco can produce between 30 to 60 fruits annually when — just as pawpaw needs — it is planted in a favourable microclimate with protection from wind, and is given sufficient water and compost. As a fast fruit — fast growing and fast fruiting — babaco completes its lifecycle in five or perhaps a few more years.
Babaco, a hybrid, produces only female flowers but no seed.
To propagate, the trunk is cut into short lengths and propagated in a well-drained, sandy growing medium until ready for transplanting.
For this soft-trunked plant, irrigation is essential during growth. It can be damaged by frost.
Root rot, resulting from poorly draining soils, and insects like the two spotted mite can damage the plant and need to be monitored for.
Babaco in the community garden
Babaco is a slender, uptight plant of compact growth form. It takes little space in the community garden and casts only limited shade.
Like the pawpaw to which it is related, babaco can be grown as a clump of plants. Doing this provides some protection from wind damage, however it is a plant that benefits by being grown in a wind-protected part of the garden and protected by hardier, wind-tolerant plants nearby, plants that form a windbreak.
Plant sufficient babaco to supply the number of people in your community garden plus a few extra to allow for the failure of individual plants.
Babaco can be ordered from nurseries specialising in fruit trees and shrubs.