Papaya Has Three Sexes (Memoirs of an Agri Journalist)

Papaya is often the subject of many anecdotes, some weird, some green. There’s the oft-repeated tale that papaya suppresses the sexual urge. And so they say it is best for celibate persons like Catholic priests.

By Zac Sarian

But there is what I may call a legitimate question that many readers would like answered. At the Agri-Kapihan Forum more than 20 years ago, a lady asked me how come the seedlings of the Sinta papaya, a hybrid developed by UP Los Baños, all produce fruits? There is no male tree that does not bear fruit. It is unlike seedlings from ordinary varieties where about half are male trees.

Well, I asked the lady who helped develop the F1 or first generation Sinta hybrid to explain why it is so. And she did it in a very easy-to-understand manner.

First, she explained that like in humans, there are three sexes in papaya. One is the male that has pollen but with no ovary so it does not bear fruit. The second is a female that has a flower with an ovary but no pollen to pollinate itself. Fruits develop when the flowers are pollinated from other sources. It could be by insects or the wind.

The third sex in papaya is the hermaphrodite or “bakla” in Tagalog. The flower has both an ovary and pollen so it can produce fruits by itself.

So, what magic did the plant breeders perform to produce seedlings that would all bear fruit? Very simple, my dear Watson: in producing a hybrid, the breeders mated two parent lines. One was the female line and the other was the male line.

To produce the seedlings that would all bear fruit, the Sinta breeders used a hermaphrodite as the male line and a female papaya as the female line. By doing that, all the seedlings thus produced bore fruits.

But the fruits are variable in shape. Some seedlings will bear elongated fruits. That’s the seedling that got the genes of the hermaphrodite, while those with round fruits got the genes of the female parent.

Well, is this not a simple and clear explanation why the seedlings of hybrid papayas in the market all produce fruit?

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2017 issue. 

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