Ancient plant breeders in Guanacaste may have created the papaya fruit that is found in stores today.
Researchers suggest that this happened about 4,000 years ago. A recent University of Illinois report credited development to the Mayan civilization, but the researchers found the papaya strain most closely related to the commercial papayas of today in the north Pacific of Costa Rica, they said.
The papaya (Carica papaya) is that large, long yellow fruit that has rows of little round black seeds inside. In some Latin countries the fruit is called a lechosa or perhaps a bomba.
The problem facing producer is that a papaya seed can produce one of three types, and only one is desirable. Papaya sprouts are either female, male or self-pollenating hermaphrodites.
The self-pollenating variety produces the fruit found in ferias and markets today. The green fruit also is used to tenderize meat.
Ray Ming, a professor at the University of Illinois, is trying to create a self-fertilizing papaya that will breed true.
“This research will one day lead to the development of a papaya that produces only hermaphrodite offspring, an advance that will enhance papaya root and canopy development while radically cutting papaya growers’ production costs and their use of fertilizers and water,” said Ming, a plant biology professor. He was quoted in a university release.
He and colleagues identified three distinct wild populations of male plants in the northwest Pacific region of Costa Rica.
Many sources attribute the development of the papaya to inhabitants of the Valley of México, but they have no evidence. The wild populations that are related to the self-fertilizing strain support the possibility that the ancient plant breeder lived in what is now Costa Rica.
The Mayan and later Aztec empires had ties to the Chorotega culture in what is now Guanacate.
Costa Rican pottery has been found in many Mexican sites. It may be that another product obtained by the Mexicans was the self-fertilizing papaya.