We have been blessed with a farm land that is home to over a hundred organic flower, fruit & vegetable bearing plants and an amazing father that has made this possible.
Of course, having this amazing collection of plants was not an over night and easy task. Right from ensuring we have our own fertilizer, good manure, the plants get regular water and learning about the different care each plant needs… our father did a lot of research.
We had a lot of Papaya trees that gave us beautiful, juicy fruits, however, there was one tree that just flowered but never bore any Papayas! My father & (late) grandfather decided to ask the gardener to replant the tree near the fence. The gardener began to question why and they explained that since it didn’t fruit, they wanted to keep it alive but on another side of the land.
The Gardener Ram, a local from a village near by, told them the reason why the tree wasn’t bearing any fruit was because it was Male and if they wanted, he could make the tree a female. For a few second, there was silence, my family assuming he was cracking a joke … but he was dead serious.
Curious, they asked him to go ahead with his ‘tree sex change’. Ram took a small piece of wood and hit it through the bark of the plant, about 2 inches from the ground. He looked at my father, proud of the job he had just done and said, “Saab, Its done. It is now a female”. Completely confused and almost convinced this was an elaborate prank, my grandfather asked, “So now ‘she’ will bear fruits?” To which Ram, without a sliver of doubt, replied, “100%.”
This incident was joked about a lot at home, how one tiny piece of wood could help a tree bear fruit. They just couldn’t wait to see what explanation Ram would come up with during their next visit.
Two weeks later, they went back to the farm house dying to hear what Ram had to say. As soon as they reached they asked him, “So did the female tree bear Papayas?” …. “Yes” he replied with absolute calm and took them to the tree. When they looked up, the tree was full of fruit. While they stared up at the Papayas with their jwas dropped, Ram asked, “So would you like to take them home? “
My father does not believe in co-incidences, Science is his best friend. As soon as he reached back home he took to the internet to understand how this was possible! After a lot of research, he found out that many plants change their gender after received a shock at a certain point. Some respond to twisting, pruning, plucking and more. How crazy is that ?
We learned that Papaya trees have three sexes which are male, female & hermaphrodite.
Male : Bares flowers ( male flowers with pollen ) but no fruits. Despite their gender, male papaya trees can also end up changing their sexual orientation in response to seasonal changes and climate conditions.
Females : Bare flowers ( female flowers that produce ovaries), that need to be fertilized with pollen from another plant to bare fruit. From what we read, female trees are more steady when it comes to having the same orientation.
Hermaphrodite : The flowers can fertilize themselves without any help from another tree of plant. The Hermaphrodite ones are what farmers favour, however, despite having both male and female flowers, they aren’t always in pair or in perfect ratio. Some may have more male flowers, some may have more female flowers & some flowers can also change their sex ! Climate also plays an important role as in warmer temperatures tree tend to produce more male flowers while cool temperatures the trees may have more female ones.
Driving a small, sharp object ( nail, stake ) into the tree, gives it a trauma thus making it believe that it may die & needs to procreate before its last breath. Please remember, this is only for certain plants/trees, not all.
Now, we tried something with our pumpkin plant that wasn’t flowering too… but let that story be for another blog.