Highland Papayas  

Overview Caricaceae family (with ample Vasconcella information and pictures)

The project “Conocimientos y Prácticas Culturales sobre los Recursos Fitogenéticos Nativos en el Austro Ecuatoriano” aimed at extending and conserving the knowledge on local native fruit species in Southern Ecuador. The highland papaya complex was one of the target fruit species that on the one hand shows a lot of potential but on the other hand is under an increasing threat of genetic erosion.

Highland or mountain papayas consist of a group of under-exploited species of the Caricaceae family that can be found in the subtropical Andean mountain climates of South America, particularly Colombia and Ecuador (National Research Council, 1989). Compared to their well-known tropical cousin, the papaya (Carica papaya L.), they tend to be smaller, less succulent, and quite different, but often very pleasant, in taste. Introduction of C. papaya probably held back the proper development of these highland papayas as fruit crop (Sánchez Vega, 1994). 

Badillo (1993) presented a total of 20  Vasconcella species worldwide and recently added (Badillo et al., 2000) a new species found in Southern Ecuador, resulting in a total of 21 Vasconcella species that have been described at this moment. Ecuador holds 15 of these 21 species (Badillo, 1983) and must unquestionable be considered as one of the “hot spots” for Vasconcella species. Southern Ecuador alone, covering only 39,987 km2 or 15 % of the Ecuadorian land area, comprises 9 Vasconcella species (Van den Eynden et al., 1999) and is generally acknowledged to be an important centre for Vasconcella research (Soria, 1991). The native Vasconcella species found in Southern Ecuador generally occur over 1,000 m above sea level (masl). They are Vasconcella candicans (A. Gray) A.DC., V. cundinamarcensis (Solms-Laub.) V. Badillo, V. microcarpa (Jacq.) A.DC, V. monoica (Desf.) A.DC., V. parviflora A. DC., V. stipulata (V. Badillo) V. Badillo, V. weberbaueri (Harms.) V. Badillo, V. × heilbornii (V. Badillo) V. Badillo, a natural hybrid, and the recently described endemic V. palandensis (V. Badillo et al.) V. Badillo.

The National Research Council (1989) classifies the potential of these Vasconcella species at three levels: (1) the direct use of the tasty, high quality fruits; (2) the use of the genetic variability as “raw” material for the creation of new Caricaceae fruits; and finally (3) the use in breeding programmes for papaya improvement in order to extend cultivation range, by using genetic endowment for cold adaptability, and improve papaya production, by using resistance genes from highland papayas.

Direct use of highland papayas is common in the Andes where fruits are eaten fresh, roasted, in juices, in marmalades or in preserves (Van den Eynden et al., 1999). Only babaco, V. × heilbornii 'Babaco', is already commercially developed. It was  introduced as a crop in New Zealand in 1973 (Harman, 1983) from where it spread in the eighties to Italy (Cossio, 1989; Ferrara et al., 1993), Spain (Merino Merino, 1989), South Africa (Wiid, 1994) and even Switzerland (Evéquoz et al., 1990) and Canada (Kempler et al., 1996) where greenhouse trials have been initiated. The hybrid character of babaco implies vegetative propagation, giving rise to typical phytopathological problems. Solution of a number of propagation problems lies in the use of in-vitro propagation (Litz et al., 1980; Jordan et al., 1996; Vega de Rojas et al., 1991).

Use of highland papaya genes in papaya breeding is especially useful in programmes that focus on the incorporation of resistance against papaya ringspot virus. V. candicans, V. cundinamarcensis, V. stipulata and V. × heilbornii are Ecuadorian Carica species that have been reported as being resistant against papaya ringspot virus (Manshardt et al., 1989). Interspecific gene flow between Carica papaya and Vasconcella species shows considerable postzygotic barriers making the use of embryo rescue indispensable (Mekako et al., 1975; Drew et al., 1997).  


Badillo V.M., 1983. Caricaceae. In: Harling G. and Sparre B. (Eds.). Flora of Ecuador No. 20. Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden. 48 pp. 

Badillo V.M., 1993. Caricaceae. Segundo Esquema. Revista de la Facultad de Agronomía de la Universidad Central, Alcance 43. Maracay, Venezuela. 111 pp.

Badillo V.M., Van den Eynden V. and Van Damme P., 2000. Carica palandesis (Caricaceae), a New Species from Ecuador. Novon 10: 4-6.

Cossio F., 1988. Il Babaco. Edizioni Calderini Edagricole, Bologna, Italy. 60 pp.

Drew R.A., O’Brien C.M. and Magdalita P.M., 1997. Development of Carica Interspecific Hybrids. Acta Horticulturae 461: 285-291.

Evéquoz N., 1990. Premiers Résultats d’un Essai de Culture de Babaco. Revue Suisse Vitic. Arboric. Hortic. 22 (2): 137-141.

Ferrara E., Barone F., Calabrese F., D’Ascanio R., De Michele A., Giorgio V., Martelli S., Monastra F. and Nieddu G., 1993. Babaco (Carica pentagona Heilb.). L’Informatore Agrario XLIX (1): 41-47.

Harman J.E., 1983. Preliminary Studies on the Postharvest Physiology and Storage of Babaco Fruit (C. × heilbornii Badillo nm. pentagona (Heilborn) Badillo). New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 26: 237-243.

Jordan M. and Velozo J., 1996. Improvement of Somatic Embryogenesis in Highland-papaya Cell Suspensions. Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture 44: 189-194.

Kempler C. and Kabaluk T., 1996. Babaco (Carica pentagona Heilb.): A Possible Crop for the Greenhouse. Hortscience 31(5): 785-788.

Litz R.E. and Conover R.A., 1980. Somatic Embryogenesis in Cell Cultures of Carica stipulata. Hortscience 15(6): 733-735.

Manshardt R.M. and Wenslaff T.F., 1989. Interspecific Hybridization of Papaya with Other Carica species. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 114(4): 689-694.

Mekako H.U. and Nakasone H.Y., 1975. Interspecific Hybridization Among 6 Carica Species. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 100(3): 237-242.

Merino Merino D., 1989. El Cultivo del Babaco. Ediciones Mundi-Prensa, Madrid, Spain. 87 pp.

National Research Council, 1989. Lost Crops of the Incas. Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. National Academy Press. Washington D.C., USA. 415 pp.

Sánchez Vega I., 1994. Andean Fruits. In: Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective. Hernándo Bermejo J.E. and León J. (Eds.). Plant Production and Protection Series No. 26. FAO, Rome, Italy. p. 181-191.

Soria J., 1991. Estrategias de Conservación In Situ de Recursos Fitogenéticos en Ecuador. In: Técnicas para el Manejo y Uso de los Recursos Fitogenéticos. Castillo R., Estrella J. and Tapia C. (Eds.). INIAP, Quito, Ecuador. p. 104-115. 

Van den Eynden V., Cueva E. and Cabrera O., 1999. Plantas Silvestres Comestibles del Sur del Ecuador – Wild Edible Plants of Southern Ecuador. Ediciones Abya-Yala, Quito, Ecuador. 221 pp. 

Vega de Rojas R. and Kitto S.L., 1991. Regeneration of Babaco (Carica pentagona) from Ovular Callus. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 116(4): 747-752.

Wiid M., 1994. Aanpasbaarheid van Babako in Subtropiese Gebiede. Instituut vir Tropiese en Subtropiese Gewasse Inligtingbulletin 15(12), 17-19.  


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