Papayas are called the “melons on trees.” The fragrant yellow fruit varies in size from two to 20 pounds when ripe. The flavor has been compared to cantaloupes and strawberries and a black seed, papain. They are rich in vitamins A and C and thiamine. The vitamin is higher than that of oranges and strawberries.
The plant itself as various medicinal uses: to cure chronic diarrhea in children, to slough ulcers, to tumor growth, and as a blood coagulant. Fresh, mashed papaya is used as a moisturizer when applied to the face.
Papaya trees are planted eight feet apart. They like a rich, moist soil and thrive on well decomposed compost, aged chicken manure, blood meal, and other organic plant foods rich in nitrogen. Papayas are propagated by seed. The trees begin to bear about four years, but it is a common practice to replant every year or two, as the fruit get smaller after this.
The papaya tree usually grows up to 15 feet in height, and the fruits ripen from mid-winter to early spring. It is hardy only in the lower top of Florida, sometimes in mid-Florida and Southern California if protected. The trunk resembles that of a palm tree and is topped with a cluster of huge, deep lobed trees.
Papaya plants may be male, female or perfect (producing male and female flowers). Long, hanging flower clusters distinguish the male papaya. These ordinarily do no produce fruit. Female and perfect plants have flower clusters at the base of the leaf next to the stem. One male plant per 20 to 25 female plants is best for fruit production. The papaya may suffer a chafe in sex due to severe pruning or injury.