"There is also a fruite," wrote the Dutch traveler Linschoten in 1598, "that came out of the Spanish Indies, brought from beyond ye Philipinas or Lusons to Malacca, and fro thence to India, it is called Papaios, and is very like a Mellon. . . and will not grow, but alwaies two together, that is male and female . . . and when they are diuided and set apart one from the other, then they yield no fruite at all."
The facility with which the papaya is propagated by means of its seeds made possible its rapid dissemination throughout the tropics, when once the Discovery had opened up routes of travel between its native home in the Western Hemisphere and the regions in Asia, Africa, and Polynesia favorable to its growth. In many places it early attained the position of importance among cultivated fruits which it holds at the present day. Higgins and Holt say of it: "Excepting the banana, there is no fruit grown in the Hawaiian Islands that means more to the people of this territory than the papaya, if measured in terms of the comfort and enjoyment furnished to the people as a whole."
It may fairly be said, perhaps, that the northern cantaloupe is replaced in Hawaii and other tropical regions by the papaya, a fruit which, in its better varieties, is a worthy rival of the melon. It is adapted to a wide range of territory; it comes into bearing when a few months old; and it yields most abundantly of its handsome fruits. The presence of inferior varieties in many regions has detracted from the prestige of the papaya, but its intrinsic merit is beyond dispute. It is the duty of tropical horticulture to encourage the dissemination of the better forms and further to improve them by means of breeding. Considerable attention has already been devoted to this subject, but much remains to be done. The rapidity with which seedlings can be brought to fruiting stage makes papaya-breeding a much less tedious process than is the case with the hard-wooded tree-fruits.
It has always been a source of wonder to those unfamiliar with the species that a plant so large as a mature papaya could be produced in so short a time. The poet Waller 1 wrote in 1635 with but slight exaggeration of the literal fact:
"The Palma Christi and the fair Papaw Now but a seed (preventing Nature's Law) In half the circle of the hasty year, Project a shade, and lovely fruits do wear."
The papaya, a giant herbaceous plant rather than a tree, grows to a height of 25 feet, and is often likened to a palm in general appearance, although there is no botanical relationship.
1 Battle of the Summer Islands.
The trunk bears no lateral branches, but sometimes divides to form several erect stems, which produce at their tops large deeply-lobed leaves sometimes 2 feet across, upon hollow petioles 2 feet or more in length. The wood is fleshy, the bark smooth, grayish brown, marked by conspicuous leaf-scars.
The papaya is normally dioecious (Fig. 29) and produces its flowers in the uppermost leaf-axils, the staminate blossoms sessile on pendent racemes 3 feet or more in length, the pistillate ones subsessile and usually solitary or in few-flowered corymbs. The staminate flowers are funnel-shaped, about an inch long, whitish, the corolla five-lobed, with ten stamens in the throat; the pistillate flowers are considerably larger, with five fleshy petals connate toward the base, a large, cylindrical or globose, superior ovary, and five sessile fan-shaped stigmas.
The fruit is commonly spherical or cylindrical in form, round or obscurely five-angled in transverse section, from 3 up to 20 or more inches in length, and sometimes weighing as much as 20 pounds. In general character it strongly resembles a melon; the skin is thin, smooth on the exterior, orange-yellow to deep orange in color; the flesh, which is deep yellow to salmon-colored, being from 1 to 2 inches thick and inclosing a large, sometimes five-angled, cavity, to the walls of which are attached the numerous round, wrinkled, blackish seeds, the size of small peas, inclosed by a thin gelatinous aril.
Fig. 29. Flowers of the papaya: the cluster and the single flower to its left are staminate (male), and the larger flower to the right is pistillate (female). Sometimes the organs of both sexes are found in the same flower, but this condition cannot be considered normal. (X about 1/3)
The flavor is rather sweet, with a slight musky tang which is sometimes objectionable to the novice, and which varies greatly in degree; the best types being of a bland agreeable taste which is almost sure to be relished. In Brazil the flavor is believed to be improved if the fruit is lightly scored when taken from the tree, and then allowed to stand for a day so that the milky juice may run out.
The native home of the papaya is known to be in tropical America, but the exact area in which it originated has not been determined. Jacques Huber, after reviewing the evidence presented by Alphonse DeCandolle and others, reached the conclusion that the species originally came from Mexico. Count Solms-Laubach, who monographed the Caricaceae, believes that the cultivated papaya may have originated as a cross between some of the species of Carica native to Mexico.
The plant is now widely distributed. In nearly all parts of tropical America it is one of the common fruits. It is abundant in India, Ceylon, and the Malay Archipelago. In Hawaii it probably attains greater comparative importance than in any other region. It is common in Australia, where it is cultivated as far south as Sydney.
In the United States it has been planted in Florida and California. It is entirely successful in the southern part of Florida, but in California its cultivation is limited to the most protected situations, and even there the fruit produced is not of good quality.
The name papaya is held to be a corruption of the Carib ababai. In one form or another it has been carried around the world; papaia, papeya, and papia are some of the corruptions which are in use. The English name papaw is widely employed, but in the southern United States its use has the disadvantage of confusing this fruit with Asimina triloba. The Portuguese name, current in Brazil, is mamao (probably referring to the mammiform apex of the fruit); in French the fruit is called papaye, in German papaja, and in Italian papaia. Several other names are used in tropical America, notably fruta de bomba in Cuba, lechosa in Porto Rico, melon zapote in parts of Mexico, and tree-melon in English-speaking countries. Botanically the species is Carica Papaya, L.
While most commonly used, perhaps, as a breakfast-fruit, like the muskmelon or cantaloupe in northern countries, the papaya can be prepared in numerous ways. In Brazil it is served as a dessert, sliced, with the addition of a little sugar and whipped cream. As a salad, in combination with lettuce, it is excellent. As a crystallized fruit it is good, but has not much character. When green it is sometimes boiled and served as a vegetable, much as summer-squash is in the North. It can also be made into pickles, preserves, jellies, pies, and sherbets. When used as a breakfast-fruit, it is cut in halves longitudinally, and after the seeds are removed served with the addition of lemon juice, salt and pepper, or sugar, according to taste.
The fruit of the papaya, as well as all other parts of the plant, contains a milky juice in which an active principle known as papain is present. This enzyme, which was first separated by Theodore Peckholt, greatly resembles animal pepsin in its digestive action, and in recent years has become an article of commerce. Aside from its value as a remedy in dyspepsia and kindred ailments, it has been utilized for the clarification of beer. Its digestive action has long been recognized in the tropics, as is evidenced by the common practice of the natives, who rub the juice over meat to make it tender, or, in preparing a fowl, wrap it in papaya leaves and let it remain overnight before cooking it.
Much has been written concerning the preparation and properties of papain. Lengthy accounts will be found in the Philippine Journal of Science, Section A, January, 1915; Agriculture (Habana, Cuba), April, 1917; the Tropical Agriculturist (Colombo, Ceylon) No. 3, 1915; and the American Journal of Pharmacy, 1901.
Alice R. Thompson of Hawaii has published the following analyses of several different seedling strains grown at Honolulu :