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Home » Crop of the Week Archive » Mountain papaya (Vasconcellea pubescens, Caricaceae)

Mountain papaya. Locality: Rionegro, Colombia. Photo courtesy: Michael Hermann

Only one species of the Caricaceae made it to world fame: the papaya! However, there are at least 13 other species in the closely related genus Vasconcellea, all of which are distributed in the Andean highlands. Our favourite is the pictured V. pubescens (syn. V. cundimarcensis), locally called “papayuela”, and often seen near rural houses at altitudes between 2000 and 3000 m.a.s.l. Unlike the papaya, the fruits of this species cannot be eaten raw, but brief cooking with some sugar renders the fruit flesh soft and provides a delightful dessert. Strangely, the imported and similarly textured peach conserves dominate the trade in the Andean countries, although its floral fragrance makes papayuela a much superior substitute. This is clearly a neglected crop, warranting more development. Mountain papayas don’t seem to have spread to other tropical mountainous areas as have New World solanaceous fruits and passion fruits. However, if you know of the use of Vasconcellea outside the Andes, we would be keen to know!