The papayas are ripe and we often associate the fruit with hot summer months when cooling fruit salad is often on the menu.
Thought to have originated from the Central Americas, Carica papaya is grown extensively in the tropical regions of the world for its nutritional, digestive and medicinal properties. Growing to a height of between 5 to 10 m, this tree-like plant has a single stem with spirally arranged leaves confined to the top of the plant. In older trees, the lower trunk is often conspicuously scarred where leaves and fruits were borne. The foliage consists of large, dark-green leaves that are prominently veined and has a 7 lobed shape.
Small wax-like flowers appear during spring and early summer, followed by green fruits that ripen to yellow. Fruit is only carried by female and hermaphrodite trees. Organic papayas are generally left to ripen on the tree; however, care should be taken since over-ripe fruits will fall off from the tree on their own. In the markets, papayas come in various sizes and stages of maturity. Green papayas can be kept at room temperature for a few days to ripen. Once the skin of the papaya has turned yellow to orange the fruit should be ripe and can be stored in the refrigerator ready for use. Please note that unripe, green papayas should not be eaten raw as it contains toxic alkaloids in the milky latex. The fruit contains dozens of small, black seeds that can be used to propagate another plant.
Carica papaya is sensitive to wind and frost and would do well in tropical or semi-tropical areas. It is a fast grower that requires adequate space for the root system to develop. Well drained soil and a sunny position is a must to ensure optimum growth.