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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Carica papaya (Papaya, Papaw, Pawpaw)

papaja [Afrikaans];phopho [N Sotho, Sesotho]; phoophoo [Tswana]; ipopo [Xhosa]; upopo [Zulu]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Rosids > Eurosid II > Order: Brassicales > Family: Caricaceae

Carica papaya (Pawpaw)

Papaya. Left, whole fruit; right, fruit cut open revealing the numerous black seeds that are removed from the fruit before it is eaten.

The Papaya originates from Mexico and Central America and is now cultivated widely in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is eaten raw as a fruit and contains high levels of Vitamins A and C and a phytochemical called beta-cryptoxanthin that promotes health. It also contains papain, which is an antibacterial protease enzyme that has meat tenderising properties and is used for clarifying beer. Flowers of Papaya trees can be male, female or both (hermaphrodite) and have a sweet-scented smell at night that attracts pollinating moths.

Note that the term Papaw or Pawpaw is also used for a completely different plant called Asimina triloba, which is native to North America. In North America, the term Papaw or Pawpaw is used exclusively to refer to Asimina triloba and the term Papaya is used exclusively to refer to Carica papaya. Biodiversity Explorer focuses on the biodiversity of southern Africa and in this region the term Pawpaw is usually used to refer to Carica papaya; the term Papaya is less commonly used. As far as I know, Asimina triloba is not cultivated at all in southern Africa. Thanks to Martin Miranda for bringing the confusing use of the term papaw to my attention.

Ecological interactions


  • Insects > Lepidoptera > Sphingidae (hawkmoths). Martins & Johnson (2009) in a study conducted in rural Kenya, found that natural habitats were important in sustaining hawkmoth populations because they contained the larval hostplants needed in completing the life cycle. Hence, papaya plants grown near natural habitats were more likely to be pollinated than those isolated from natural habitats. They recorded the following hawkmoth species as pollinators:

Publications (by date)

  • van Wyk, B.-E. 2005. Food Plants of the World - Identification, Culinary Uses and Nutritional Value. Briza, Pretoria.

  • Martins DJ, Johnson SD. 2009. Distance and quality of natural habitat influence hawkmoth pollination of cultivated papaya. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science 29: 114-123.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1742758409990208

Text by Hamish Robertson