Fruits of your labor

Papaya originated in the lowland tropics of South America, but today you can find papayas growing everywhere in the tropics and subtropics AND right here at the Virginia Zoo.  This tropical plant likes rich soil, adequate water and full sun.  Here at the Zoo, we have papaya growing in our tropical beds and there is a very showy variety right off the plaza (shown here).  Not hardy in Hampton Roads, this unique plant can offer fruit or just be grown as an ornamental during the spring, summer and long falls.

Papayas are fast growing, single stem plants. The trunk is soft and does not have a bark, and papayas don’t have branches. Most of the time, you will see a tall, slender tree with leaves at the very top. The fruit grows on the bark, so as the tree grows up the fruit is harder to reach. The female varieties set fruit and the male varieties do not. The fruit must ripen on the tree.  If you pick the fruit green, it will not continue to ripen. The leaves of a papaya are large and soft and typically very showy. The plant’s fruits will come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including pear-like or round, and are known for their sweet, yellow or orange flesh.

To get started and grow your own papaya, we suggest starting them in pots indoors and starting them in early December. You can purchase the seed from a seed source or a local garden center or even from fresh papaya found in the grocery store. Plant the seeds in a nutrient rich soil and in about 3-5 weeks some of the seeds will begin to germinate and push through the soil surface. Give them a few more weeks to grow and separate them out to their own individual pot.  Plant outside after the threat of frost, which is around mid-April for Hampton Roads. Be sure to water and fertilize.

Growing papaya trees in your own yard, is a great way to enjoy these exotic fruits.