Sweet, musky papaya fruit is native to Central and South America but now grows throughout the tropical world. The tree-like plant springs up quickly from one of the hundreds of shiny black seeds contained in a papaya fruit. Like many tropical plants, the papaya grows rapidly, reaching heights of 10 feet and setting fruit in the first year.

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Papaya fruits start out green and gradually ripen to a rich orange color.

Seed Germination

Papaya fruits are filled with hundreds of black, shiny seeds about 1/8 of an inch in diameter. After removing the seeds from the papaya fruit, wash off all traces of the flesh. Dry the seeds in a cool, dim room for two to three days before planting. Papaya seeds can be planted directly into the garden or started in pots. As long as the temperature is above 65 degrees F, the seeds will germinate in two to five weeks.

Growth and Foliage

Papaya plants look like trees, but this fast-growing tropical is a herbaceous plant. To reach heights of 10 feet tall with a trunk 1 foot in diameter in the first year, the trunk is actually hollow. The large leaves are dark green, veined and palm shaped. Each leaf stalk is hollow and grows directly from the center stalk. One leaf stalk supports one large leaf.

Flowers

Papaya flowers are 1 to 2 inches long, creamy white and trumpet shaped. The flowers grow directly from the center stalk near the point where the leaf stalks emerge. Individual papaya plants may have male flowers, female flowers, or both male and female flowers. Papaya plants begin to flower within six months of planting. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Once the flowers fade, a small, green, papaya begins to develop at the site.

Fruiting

The female plants are the ones that produce fruit, though some of the male/female plants also produce. Growers plant two or three papaya plants in the hopes that one will fruit effectively. Papaya plants take anywhere from six to 12 months to mature and produce fruit, according to Purdue University. Papaya fruits grow on anywhere from 6 to 15 inches long, depending on the variety. As the fruit ripens, the dark green skin turns a rich orange color.