MEMOIR 28: Sex And The Papaya Tree

This papaya with elongated fruits got the genes of the hermaphrodite parent.
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.

But there is what I may call a legitimate question that many readers would like to know the answer. 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.

This hybrid papaya with roundish fruits got the genes of the female parent.
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 flower with ovary but with no pollen to pollinate itself. Fruits develop when the flowers are pollinated from other sources. It could be by insects or by wind.

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

So, what magic did the plant breeders do to produce seeds that will all bear fruit? Very simple my dear Watson. In producing a hybrid, the breeders mate two parent lines. One is the female line and the other is the male line.
To produce the Sinta papaya seedlings that all bore fruit, the breeders used a hermaphrodite as the male line and a female papaya as the female line. By doing that, all the seedlings that they 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?

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