Both familiar and unusual papayas from around the world have a safe, permanent home in Hawaii. They're part of a living collection managed by Agricultural Research Service scientists based in Hilo.
Formally known as the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Tropical and Subtropical Fruit and Nut Crops, the collection includes everything from Thailand's 8- to 9-pound mega-papayas to Hawaii's widely planted, one- to one-and-one-half-pound "solo" varieties, each the perfect size for one person to eat.
Other papaya trees at the repository come from Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Australia, as well as from Central and South America.
In all, the collection includes more than 60 kinds of papaya. Some are varieties of the familiar Papaya carica that we eat; others are lesser known, wild papaya species.
Among the most unusual specimens is a papaya relative from Paraguay, Jacaratia spinosa. It bears small, orange fruit and makes an attractive, 12- to 15-foot ornamental tree. At four or 5 years, it appears as stately and mature as other trees species that are 30 to 40 years old, according to repository curator and research leader Francis T.P. Zee.
Some of the papayas from South America, such as those from Columbia and Ecuador, thrive in cold weather. So, they're planted in an orchard about 30 miles from the repository's Hilo headquarters, where the elevation is higher and the temperatures are lower.
The repository helps ensure that samples of older papaya varieties won't disappear as they're outsold by newly popular ones. Too, papaya's wild relatives are protected there because they might otherwise fall victim to land development.
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