Papayas grow in the tropical regions of the New World. They grow in southern Mexico and further south into Central and South America. Another name for the papaya is the paw paw.
The papaya tree cannot tolerate frost and does best in rich soil that is full of humus and is well-drained. The papaya also needs full sun, but after these requirements are met, the tree needs little care. It's a small, evergreen, broad-leafed plant that grows to a height of about 20 feet. Since it does not produce woody tissue, some botanists believe that the papaya is a type of herb as opposed to a real tree. Male and female flowers are produced on different trees.
The papaya is grown for its fruit. The fruit is at first green, then it turns orange-yellow as it matures. The flesh is orange with pink undertones and full of small, black seeds, which are edible. The fruits can weigh up to 20 pounds, though much smaller papaya fruit is typically sold in supermarkets. The fruit is also known for an enzyme called papain, which is used as a meat tenderizer.
Besides papain, the papaya fruit is rich in nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, folic acid, pantothenic acid, magnesium, potassium, copper and dietary fiber.