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CARICA PENTAGONA Heilborn - Babaco, Mountain Papaya
Related Species: Papayuelo (Carica goudotiana) Orange Papaya (C. monoica ), Papaya (C. papaya), Toronchi (C. pubescens), Chamburro (C. stipulata ). Hybrids of Babaco and other Carica spp. also exist.

Distant Affinity: Papaya Orejona (Jacartia mexicana), Mamao (J. spinosa ).

Origin: The babaco is presumed to have originated in the central south highlands of Ecuador and is believed to be a naturally occurring hybrid of Carica stipulataandC. pubescens.It has been cultivated in Ecuador since before the arrival of Europeans. In more recent times the babaco was introduced into New Zealand where it is grown commercially. In Israel and other parts of the Middle Eastern the plant is also being grown commercially in greenhouses. Steve Spangler is credited with introducing the babaco to southern California in the 1970's.

Adaptation: The babaco thrives in a cool subtropical climate, free of frost. In California it grows in coastal areas of the southern part of the state and with some protection as far north as the San Francisco Bay area. With some shade it will grow in the warmer interior regions, but high temperatues and low humidity may result in sunburned fruit and immature fruit drop. The babaco is much more tolerant of cool, damp winters than the papaya. It will withstand temperatures to about 28 degrees F, although it may lose most of its leaves. The babaco is ideally suited to container culture and also excellent for greenhouses.

DESCRIPTION

Growth Habits: The babaco is a small, herbaceous shrub, that grows to about 6 feet in height, with an erect softwood trunk lined with leaf scars typical of other caricas. The plant rarely branches but shoots often appear around the base. The thickness of the trunk is associated with the vigor of the plant.

Foliage: The moderately large, palmate leaves have prominent ribs and veins and are on long hollow petioles that radiate from the trunk. The average life of a leaf is 4 to 6 months. During the cold winter months the leaves degenerate and are gradually shed.

Flowers:Flowers form on the newly developing trunk during the growth phase of the tree. Usually the thicker the trunk, the more prolific the flowering will be. The flowers, usually solitary on the end of a long pendulous stalk, arise from every leaf axil. The flowers are all female. Fruit:Babaco fruits set parthenocarpically, as there are no seeds present in the fruit. The young fruits set and grow immediately after flowering, reaching a maximum expansion phase during October - November. At this point the fruits reach a length of about 12 inches long and 8 inches wide. They are distinctly five-sided, rounded at the stem end and pointed at the apex. The onset of maturity is recognized by the yellowing of the fruit, first in patches on the sides of the fruit and gradually extending over the total area of the fruit during the following weeks. Fruits ripen in progression from the lower fruits, usually the heaviest, to those higher up the trunk. The flesh of the babaco is very juicy, slightly acidic and low in sugar. The unique flavor has been described as having overtones of strawberry, pineapple and papaya. The smooth, thin skin is also edible.
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