Babaco or 'champagne fruit'

The babaco is related to the paw-paw, in fact until the fruit appears, it is difficult to tell the trees apart. It is believed to be a naturally occurring hybrid of the paw-paw. It does not set seed, but may be easily propagated from cuttings. It fruits in temperate climates where paw-paw fruit either does not 'set', or will not ripen. It can even withstand a few degrees of frost.

The babaco should be planted in well-drained soil with plenty of humus & a neutral to acid Ph. It prefers matured compost or leaf mould to manure. If you don't have access to these, use small amounts of slow-release fertilizer. A sheltered spot with broken shade in summer & sunshine in winter reproduces it's natural home in open forest. It must get a reasonable amount of sun or it won't set fruit.

Overwatering & too much nitrogenous fertilizer may induce root-rot. If this happens to your tree, lop off the upper portion, leave it for a day or two for callus to form, then put the cutting in a place where it will take root.

Flowers will appear soon after the first spring growth & some should set fruit, which takes about a year to reach full size, & a further 8 - 10 weeks to ripen. Don't let the tree dry out during this time, or they will fall off. The fruit is large, pentagonal & pointed, rather like a huge banana capsicum. (Picture)

The flavour is light, acid, & slightly effervescent, hence it's other name 'champagne fruit'. The latex, like that of paw-paws, figs, & many other tropical plants, is quite corrosive when liquid, & should be wiped away or allowed to dry up, if the fruit is to be eaten raw. The riper the fruit, the less of a problem this is. (This latex is an excellent remedy for warts, & should be carefully applied to the wart several times a day until it is burned away.) The ripe fruit is rich in vitamin C.
Like paw-paw, the green fruit can be used as a vegetable, though it needs to be well-cooked. It is at its best in curries, or made into chutney.

After harvesting the fruit, you can either leave the tree to form branches, in which case the fruits in the next crop will be smaller in size, or you can cut off it's head! Don't waste the cuttings, as the tree is not easily obtainable through nurseries. The best way to get one is from a friend, or a member of a Rare Fruit Society.

This is not a long-lived tree, but is ornamental, easily propagated, on the right scale for a small garden, & does well in the micro-climate of an urban garden or courtyard. It even does quite well in a large container.

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