The papaya or pawpaw (Carica papaya) is a tropical tree originally native to the Americas, probably Mexico. This species is easily cultivated, produces large, edible fruits, and now is distributed worldwide to suitable climates where it is grown for subsistence and commercial agriculture. The papaya has large deeply incised, sometimes compound leaves that sprout near the top of the plant. This plant does not develop true woody tissues because it is a giant, soft-stemmed, perennial herb that grows to be as much as 32.8 ft (10 m) tall. Individual plants generally die after about four years.
The papaya is dioecious, that is unisexual, for male and female flowers are borne by separate plants. The flowers are yellow and sweet-smelling and open at night to attract moths, the pollinators of the papaya.
The economically important fruits of the papaya are large, yellow-green or reddish, melon-like, multi-seeded berries each weighing as much as 22 lb (10 kg). The fruits of the papaya emerge from the stem of the plant in a phenomenon known as cauliflory. The papaya bears fruit year-round.
The flesh of the papaya fruit is orange-yellow and edible. Papaya fruits can be eaten fresh, boiled, preserved, or reduced to a juice. Other products can be created from the milky latex of the papaya including a base for chewing gum and an extract containing the enzyme papain. Papain is used to tenderize tough meats by predigesting some of their proteins.
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