The Q&A Archives: Determining The Sex Of A Papaya Tree

Question: How early in the life of a papaya tree can you tell if it is a female or hermaphrodite that will produce fruit? I have several plants started from seeds. My real dilemma is that, once I grow a plant, I can't bring myself to discard or destroy it! At this rate, pretty soon, I'll be over run with papaya trees! Help!


I know your dilemma as I have grown papayas from seed before myself! Until the seedlings start to bloom months after germination I know of no way to tell them apart.

The following excerpt from a Florida Extension Service Publication give some information on male, female and hermaphroditic (bisexual) papaya plants, and some guidelines for selecting seeds to insure better percentages of female and hermaphroditic plants.

The papaya is a polygamous species. The plants may be classified into three primary sex types: 1) male (staminate), 2) hermaphroditic (bisexual), and 3) female (pistillate). In addition, some plants can produce, at the same time, more than one kind of flower. Also, some produce flowers which are not of these basic forms, but exhibit different degrees of maleness and femaleness. This tendency to change in sexual expression seems to be triggered by climatic factors, such as drought and variable temperatures. The tendency to produce male flowers seems to increase at high temperatures.

Since male trees are unfruitful and fruit from bisexual plants is preferred in some markets, it is very important to select seed which will give a maximum number of fruitful trees of the desired type. This cannot be done by simply saving seed from productive open-pollinated plants, but one can predict fairly accurately the progeny by knowing the source of pollen and the kind of flower the fruit came from. Accordingly, the grower must hand pollinate to obtain the desired combination of flower types.

This is done by covering an unopened flower, either bisexual or pistillate, with a paper bag until it opens and then transferring the desired pollen onto the receptive pistil. Pollination studies have shown that: 1) pistillate (female) flowers pollinated by staminate (male) flowers give equal numbers of male and female progeny; 2) pistillate flowers pollinated by pollen from bisexual flowers give an equal number of female and bisexual progeny, 3) bisexual flowers either self-pollinated or crossed-pollinated with other bisexuals give a ratio of one female to 2 bisexual, 4) bisexual flowers pollinated by staminate ones produce equal numbers of female, male and bisexual progeny. It is evident that the second and third combinations will produce the maximum number of fruit-bearing plants.

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