|Vasconcellea × heilbornii|
Babaco fruits being sold.
|Naming and discovery|
It can grow at high altitudes over 2,000 meters, and is the most tolerant plant to cold in the Vasconcellea genus. It is classified as a herbaceous shrub like the papaya (Carica papaya), but the babaco only produces female flowers. This species can produce from 30-60 fruits annually, and lives to about 8 years. The babaco plant is a good container specimen, and is better suited than the papaya, which needs constant moisture and high temperatures.
It is considered a small unbranched or slightly branched tree reaching 5-8 meters tall. The fruit is narrow, and usually less than 10 cm in diameter, with no seeds. The skin is said to have tastes of strawberries, papayas, kiwis, and pineapple. The fruit is pentagonal in shape. The fruit is not especially acidic, but contains papain, which might cause mild irritation or "burns". The bark is greenish to gray-brown with leaf scars. The leaves are alternate and clustered at the stem tip, palmate, divided and toothed, 5-7 lobes. The flowers are on a pendulous stalk, with yellowish-green petals.
Like the papaya, the babaco has been cultivated for its fruit and fruit juice. This cultivation has been successful as far south as New Zealand, and as far north as Guernsey, Channel Islands, and in Italy (mostly in Sicily and Calabria).