THE papaya is among the things of which the scientific name matches what it is commonly known as.
The first part of the botanical name, Carica papaya, derives from the Greek ‘karike’, which means ‘resembling the fig’ in reference to the leaves.
It would not be wrong to say that papaya is an ever-popular tropical fruit. Although the plant thrives in the tropical and subtropical regions in the world, it is actually adaptable to a range of climates.
A slice of papaya is not only a delight for the tastebuds, but it is also a nutritional powerhouse. The fruit is packed with the essential vitamins and minerals, amongst them Vitamin C that can boost our immune system and aid in healing; Vitamin A that is essential for good vision and maintaining healthy skin; folate, which is crucial for cell formation; potassium for regulating blood pressure; and antioxidants, which can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Varieties of papaya
There are many varieties of papaya, each with its own characteristics. The pear-shaped Solo papaya is popular in Malaysia. Originating from Hawaii, it has vibrant orange flesh that is delicately sweet. Malaysia used to export tonnes of them to Japan in the 1980s.
The Mexican papaya can grow as big as 10 pounds (4.5kg). The red-flesh Maradol papaya is found in the Caribbean and Central America. The Tainung papaya originates from Taiwan.
For now, the major producers of this fruit are Hawaii (USA), Brazil and India.
Papaya tree occurs in three sexual forms: male, female and hermaphrodite. The male produces only pollen, and never any fruit. Unless pollinated, the female produces small inedible fruits.
The hermaphrodites can self-pollinate.
During my follow-up on the ‘Successful Farming in Sarawak’ programme, I met some big-time planters and those supplying to outside markets. What I found interesting was that each of them had their own practices to ensure good harvest, with some of them preferring to bud the plant.
Apart from its fruit and young leaves being consumed as food, the papaya plant has long been used in traditional medicine.
The stems, trunk and bark are used for making ropes.
The latex present in the young fruit and also in the seeds contain papain, an enzyme that is a protease, meaning it breaks down proteins. It is a key substance used in meat tenderisers.
Papaya can be propagated either from seeds or through grafting. Being an herbaceous plant, it is not suitable to be planted in a wet or water-logged ground. It has a shallow root system and is best grown on well-drained soil containing plenty of organic matter.
Soil with low pH level needs to be limed to reduce the acidity.
For me, I use lots of organic fertiliser like chicken manure, and I scatter it away from the base of the plant.
It is a good practice to plant a papaya tree on a mound so that excess water will run off after the rain. Seed-planted papaya needs about four to five months before flowering and fruit-setting, and it takes over 50 days to reach ripening stage.
Recently, papaya farmers in several areas in Peninsular Malaysia faced some serious problems. According to a report in a recent issue of ‘Agroworld’ magazine, some diseases have resulted in papaya production in Selangor and Melaka to plummet by 50 per cent, while the farmers in Perak are struggling in countering plant-rotting and leaf-rolling disease.
There are also weather problems, likely due to climate change.
Rotting can be caused by the fungus Manlinta fructicolor that attacks green fruits, and also the fusarium fungus, common during rainy season and can cause stunted seedlings, rotting roots, stem discoloration, wilting and death.
Hopefully, the plant quarantine measures could prevent these serious diseases from spreading to Sarawak.