Melow Papaw TreeThe Melon Papaw (Carica Papaya, L.), which has had its name borrowed by the species just described, is a tropical tree that grows wild in southern Florida, and is often seen in greenhouses farther north. It grows like a palm, with tall stem and leaves rosetted at the top.
The bark is silvery white, the leave lustrous, long stalked, deeply cleft, and often a foot across. The flowers are waxen and yellow, and on the pistillate trees are succeeded by melon-like fruits, sometimes as large as a man's head, clustered at the base of the leaf rosette. This is the papaw exploited in certain patent medicines. It belongs to the passionflower family.
The botanical explorer, William Bartram. wrote in 1790: "This admirable tree is certainly the most beautiful of any vegetable production I know of." The fruits are eaten raw, or made into conserves. The leaves are used by the Negroes as a substitute for soap in washing clothes. But they are especially valued as a means of making tough meat tender.
The fleshy leaves are bruised, then wrapped up with the meat and laid aside. A solvent called papain, which the leaves contain, soon breaks down the tough connective tissues.