As papaya is melon-like in consistency, shape, flavour and fragrance, it is also called Tree Melon.
The large palmatified leaves on long, hollow white petioles crowning un-branched stems of the papaya tree are beautiful. The leaves measure two feet across, divided into eight crowded segments of long pointed some further side divided, deeply lobed, with prominent ribs and margins. They look like designer created patterns. The whorl of leaves forming a palm like rotund terminal top grows in height, getting pushed up after each flowering and fruiting. The trunk is hollow and soft wooded. The light grey bark is thin, fleshy within papery outside, with conspicuous scars of fallen leafstalks. Papaya is fast growing, fruiting in nine months and short-lived.The wood exhibits an interesting and unique formation and consists of an outer ring of fibrous wood bundles, surrounding a large central mass of cellular pith tissues. On the vertical outer surfaces of the wood circle, a network of diamond shaped bundles and in the wood ring, wedge shaped bundles occur. In between the bundles come the indistinct soft medullary rays.The racemes of pale yellow flowers grow from the axils of leaves. Male and female flowers grow in different trees and it is advisable to have trees of both sexes, for the female trees to bear fruit. Male flowers grow in light clusters of tiny scented blossoms pinned closely on to long drooping stems, dozens of creamy sprays cascading from leafy stalks.Papaya is planted chiefly for their fruits that grow about ten inches long. The fruits are melon-like in consistency, shape, flavour and fragrance - hence called Tree Melon. Beneath the smooth green skin turning orange-yellow is the mass of delicious succulent soft yellow pulp, rich in vitamins. To the walls of the fruit, a five-angled cavity, are attached a great many round wrinkled pepper-like seeds, enclosed in a sac of fibrous fluid. The seeds too are eaten. Seedless varieties have been developed. Koels and crows eat up the fruits, if we do not collect them in time. The unripe fruits are used in curries, cooked like a pumpkin and taste well when pickled and preserved. The leaves are used to wash clothes instead of soap. The milky latex is a safe vermifuge. Papain made from latex is one of the ingredients of chewing gum. The unripe fruits, when cooked along with tough meat, tenderises it.As papaya does not give much shade, it can be planted in small gardens. The translucent shade helps flower beds. It may be planted in rows along compound walls. It is not a demanding plant when it comes to the kind of soil it should be grown in. Well-drained loamy soil, farmyard manure and neem cake will be adequate ground preparation for sowing the seeds or planting the saplings. The seeds have low viability and should be collected from mature fruits and stored in mud pots with wood ash.Carica papaya Linn (family Caricaceae) though known and grown the world over in all tropical regions is native to South America and the Caribbean. J. MANGALARAJ JOHNSON