Article from the
Tropical Fruit News magazine of the Miami Rare Fruit Council
by W. Conradie
Origin of the
The Papaya Carica
L., is indigenous to tropical America. The exact origin in America is
uncertain, but it is closely related to the "monkey's papay," C. peltata Hook and
Arn., of Mexico and Costa Rica, which is probably the female of C. bourgeoei
Solms- Laub. It is possible that it appeared first in those parts of
Central America where that species is found, but on the other hand it
may have resulted from several hybridizations, some perhaps having
occurred in Mexico.
L. was first brought to the notice of Europeans by Oviendo, who was
Director of Mines in Hispaniola from 1513 to 1525. He wrote that
Alphonse de Valverde had brought its seeds from the coasts beyond
Panama to Darie, from where it was carried to San Domingo and to other
islands in the West Indies. It seems that, on the discovery of America,
it had not reached its possible limits of distribution in the New
World, although at that time, it had become fairly well distributed on
the mainland of tropical America. It was only much later, in 1626, that
seeds of papaya were introduced to Europe from India.
Spaniards carried the plant from the West Indies to Manila along with
its Hispaniola name, papaya, which is still used in the Philippines.
From there it was brought by either the Portuguese or Spaniards to
eastern Malaya. It must have reached Malacca before 1583 and Goa after
1589, according to the Dutch traveller Linschoten. The celebrated Dutch
botanist, Rheed, made an illustration of the papaya on the Malabar
coast not long after 1667 when he became Governor of Ceylon. From there
its seed was spread amongst the numerous islands, and according to
Sturtevant (1919) it was known throughout the islands of the Pacific by
In a letter dated 13 May 1652, shortly after his arrival in the
Cape, Jan van Riebeeck ordered papaya seeds from India for his
adaptability studies. In the middle of the eighteenth century Lauriero
saw the papaya in Zanzibar, and it is believed to have been brought to
East Africa by the Portuguese in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.
The possibility of its introduction into East Africa from Malaya by way
of Madagascar should also not be overlooked. Capt. GJ. Elphick was the
first papaya grower in the Lowveld early in the twentieth century, and
also the first to send five boxes to the market in Johannesburg.
papaya is now widespread in most tropical areas of the world up to 320
north and south of the equator. Besides Central America, papaya is
important as a commercial plant in Hawaii, South Africa, Australia,
India,Ceylon, the Philippines and Southeast Asia. In South Africa the
papaya is mainly cultivated in the eastern and northeastern Transvaal
Lowveld, Natal, and to a lesser extent in the Eastern Cape .
The names papaw, pawpaw, paw-paw, melon pawpaw, papaya and papita are
applied to C. papaya
L., the most commonly used being papaya and pawpaw, Other inflections
in use are papaia, papeya, papia, and papino, The word pawpaw is
favoured by the Shorter English Oxford dictionary, and was first used
in 1598 after being adopted from papaya or papay which was thought to
be a derivation of the Caribbean word ababai.
The name papaw or pawpaw is also applied to a small North American
tree, Asimina triloba
of the Annonaceae, which has a small edible fruit, with a yellow flesh,
creamy and rather watery with numerous brownish seeds arranged
lengthwise in a double row. (See TFNews Aug. 1882 Ed) Confusion may
easily result from the use of the pawpaw when referring to two such
very different fruits, unless the context is taken fully into account.
Portuguese name currently used in Brazil, is 'mamao'; in French the
fruit is called 'papaye'; in German and Afrikaans 'papaja'; andin
Italian 'papaia'. Several other names are used in tropical America,
namely 'fruta de bomba' in Cuba, 'lechosa' in Puerto Rico, 'melon
zapote' in parts of Mexico and 'tree melon' in some English speaking