Papayas are interesting trees with hollow, unbranched stems and deeply lobed leaves. They produce flowers that develop into fruit. Papaya fruit are notoriously laden with seeds, so when you get a papaya without seeds, it may be a surprise. “Why doesn’t my papaya have seeds?”, you may wonder. Read on for the various reasons there might not be any seeds inside papayas and whether the fruit is still edible.
Seedless Papaya Fruit
Papaya trees can be male, female, or hermaphrodite (having both male and female parts). Female trees produce female flowers, male trees produce male flowers, and hermaphrodite trees bear female and hermaphrodite flowers.
Since female flowers need to be pollinated by male pollen, the preferred kind of tree for commercial fruit production is the hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodite flowers are self-pollinating. A seedless papaya fruit usually comes from a female tree.
If you split open a ripe papaya and find that there are no seeds, you will surely be surprised. Not that you miss the seeds but because there usually are seeds. Why would there be no seeds inside papayas? Does this make the papayas inedible?
Seedless papaya fruit are unpollinated papaya fruit from a female tree. A female requires pollen from a male or hermaphroditic plant to produce fruit. Most of the time, when female plants don’t get pollen, they fail to set fruit. However, unpollinated papaya female plants sometimes set fruit without seeds. They are called parthenocarpic fruit and are perfectly fine to eat.
Creating Papaya Without Seeds
The idea of papaya fruit without seeds is very appealing to consumers, but parthenocarpic fruits are quite rare. Botanists are working to develop seedless papayas and fruit found in grocery stores are usually those that they have developed in greenhouse conditions.
Papaya without seeds come from mass propagation in vitro. Botanists graft seedless types of papaya onto the mature root system of a papaya tree.
The babaco shrub (Carica pentagona ‘Heilborn’) is native to the Andes thought to be a naturally occurring hybrid. A relative of the papaya, it bears the common name “mountain papaya.” All of its papaya-like fruit is parthenocarpic, meaning seedless. The babaco fruit is sweet and delicious with a slightly citrusy taste. It has become internationally popular and now is cultivated in California and New Zealand.