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Papaya (Carica papaya)

The papaya tree is one of the most distinctive plants on earth. It is generally 4 to 5 meters tall and unbranched, but old plants may be 10 meters tall. The trunk looks a little like an upside-down, gray carrot. This plant has huge leaves with very long petioles and are clustered near the top of the tree, because the lower ones are shed, leaving large, circular scars on the bark. The stem is soft and weak because it has very flimsy wood (secondary xylem) and a hollow center.

Once a plant starts to produce, there is a continuous supply of fruits. All one has to do is to climbing to harvest the lowermost papaya fruit.

The ripe fruit has a yellow and green skin, often with tints of red and orange, and a sweet, semi-firm, yellow-orange pulp. Within the central cavity of the fruit are hundreds of dark seeds that almost appear bluish when the fruit is cut open; they are about the size of small peas and are attached to the pulp. Papaya fruit is most commonly eaten fresh for dessert or made into a drink, although it can be canned and now occurs in canned tropical fruit salads and designer fruit drinks. The seeds of the best fruits are saved and replanted.

All organs of the plant contain laticifers, and a white latex flows freely from any cut surface. Long ago natives learned that papaya latex is a very effective meat tenderizer. Tough meat was wrapped in fresh leaves for several hours to make it tender. The active tenderizing ingredient is a protein-digesting enzyme called papain, which is very similar to human stomach pepsin.

What next:  Cultivating the papaya at the O.




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