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Babaco Below Zero

Babaco…Even the name sounds funny. I first met this fruit in Ecuador. It was love at first bite.

Babaco is a type of hybrid fruit, most similar to (but not really) papaya. It certainly doesn’t taste like papaya! It’s Latin name is Vasconcellea × heilbornii, the plant formerly known as Carica pentagona. 

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It was once classified as a papaya, it is still called the ‘Ecuadorian papaya’ or ‘mountain papaya’.  This is how mistakes are made and perpetuated in horticulture (and every thing else). Unlike a papaya, it only produces self-fertile, female flowers. This is great news to the home grower–All you need is one plant, and you will get fruit, even in a pot, even when the pot is moved inside to overwinter. This, I can attest to–and in Indiana, of all places!

I found this plant at Logee’s, about a year after I first tasted it. I love the taste–it remind me of tropical Fresca, and immediately had to have it. Every plant addict knows that feeling. Little did I know when I received the tiny plant in the 4″ pot, that I would be harvesting babaco 9-10 mo later, while it was -18 outside!  For some reason, this makes it even better. And it tastes better, too, dammit!

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It’s easy to tell when a babaco is ripe–it turns yellow. It also has that tropical, citrusy scent. One of the great things about babaco, is that it has no seeds. And you can see where how it received its former species name, pentagona–five sided!

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As far as pests, I’m noticing a bit of scale, but no mealy bugs. The scale only showed up after I brought the tree inside, where it is in a south facing window. This is one tough plant, but the roots are really, really fragile! I almost ripped them all off repotting this into the big red pot. I have repotted thousands (tens of thousands?) of plants, and I’ve never had this happen: I gave the plant a gentle tug from the pot, and the tree came out–with almost no roots! I was devastated, and pretty sure of what the outcome would be. My black thumb would once again prevailed.

Despite of everything I knew, or thought I knew, or knew better, I potted it up (what else could I do?), and moved the tree into a shady location. The weather thankfully cooperated with me, and it stayed cool and wet for at least two weeks. It looked like hell for the first week, and I was totally bummed. Yes, I could propagate it. Or order another, but really, how could I be so stupid? When bad things happen to good plants, I am usually not the at the root of the problem! And in this case, there weren’t many roots left!

However, within weeks, it seemed like the plant had established enough of a root system, and it was slowly moved back into part, and then full sun. It never lost a fruit. I did remove new developing fruit, because…it seemed like the right thing to do. It already had a full crop. Anyways, my best case scenario was that I would keep the plant alive and it would be ready to fruit next year. I never thought any plant could survive what I subjected this poor plant to! So, if it could survive me, and my misadventures, it can survive you. And you can dazzle your friend with a fruit that is fun to pronounce (accent on the second syllable!), and fun to eat. Keep in mind that the fruit contains papain, an enzyme that is used to tenderize meat (amongst other things), that can cause a bit of a burn on the lips. Especially if they are chapped. It was totally worth it–no regrets, and I can’t wait to eat the next one.

So, with that in mind–any suggestions as to how I should prepare the next babacos? I think it would go really well muddled with gin. Or in a smoothie. But really, it is deserving of better than this!