The multipurpose, widely grown plant with its edible, fleshy, pear-shaped fruit is found in many parts of the world. Gardenerdy provides information on how to grow and care for the Chayote plant.
There have been claims and urban legends that the bodies in a mausoleum in the Colombian town called San Bernardo have mummified due to their diet which was rich in Chayote. It is claimed that this plant abounds in cell-regenerative properties.
It was first recorded by modern botanist, Patrick Browne, in his famous work the Civil and Natural History of Jamaica which was released in the year 1756. Later, it was classified as Sicyos edulis by scientist and botanist Nikolaus von Jacquin in 1763. A French naturalist, Michel Adanson, classified it as Chocho edulis, and finally in the year 1800, it received its present genus classification Sechium given by Swedish botanist Olof Peter Swartz.
This edible plant belongs to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae. It is also known as vegetable pear, mirliton, choco, squash vegetable, and custard marrow. They are native to southern Mexico and Guatemala. In the U.S., they are mostly grown in Louisiana and Florida but are also hugely imported from Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.
Given below are its propagation and maintenance methods.
♦ These plants are grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 11.
♦ The seeds of this plant germinate while still inside the fruit; hence, you can plant the fruit as whole or buy the fruit and allow it sprout in a dark, dry place. The best time to plant it is after the final frost of the season when the soil has reached 65 Degrees Fahrenheit in spring, or if the climate is too cold, you can plant it indoors.
♦ While growing it outside, prepare a soil bed in an area that receives abundant sunlight, mix compost with 10 inches of soil, and till the ground.
♦ Then plant the unmarred chayote fruits at least 10 feet apart from each other. Make sure that the setting is flat so that the bottom and stem end up at the soil surface.
♦ Keep the soil moist by watering it regularly, at an interval of 2 – 3 weeks, nourish it with compost, once or twice weekly, during the growing season.
♦ These are perennial vines, hence, provide them with support by digging up 2-foot deep holes for the trellis supports which are at least 6 ft tall.
♦ While growing them indoors, plant the unmarred fruit in a one-gallon pot of soil with the stem set up at a 45-degree angle, and place it in an area that receives a lot of sunlight with temperature ranging from 80 to 85 Degrees Fahrenheit, and water it occasionally.
♦ In hardiness zones 9 through 10, make sure the plant is protected from dry winds and has ample shade.
♦ It grows well in a frost-free environment. The vines grow quickly and clamor wherever they find support. It produces juicy, pear-shaped fruits which are about 4 – 6 inches in diameter and weigh around 6 ounces – 3 pounds. The fruits get tender when they are ready for harvesting. The vines grow 30 – 50 feet long, and are productive up to 8 years. Each plant can produce 25 – 100 fruits.
Pruning & Pest Control
♦ Prune these perennial vines to about 6 feet for new growth, in spring. Make sure they have plenty of space to grow. To reduce water loss, prune the leaves at the lower end; they propagate well when they are planted in a horizontal angle. Avoid over watering the plant. Use a liquid fish fertilizer for better growth.
♦ Chayotes are normally disease-free plants with just the occasional attacks from white flies and aphids. Remedial measure is to hose off the insects with water or cure the plant with insecticidal soap or neem solution.
♦ As all parts of the chayote plant are edible, it is used in a variety of dishes. Because of its crisp texture and raw mild flavor, it is ideally used for salad dressings and stir-frying cooking.
♦ The leaves and fruits of this plant are said to be diuretic and anti-inflammatory, hence, they are used in the treatment of kidney stone as they help in dissolving them. They are also used for the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension. The tea made out of its leaves and roots, is said to be very beneficial for health, as it’s rich in Vitamin C and fiber.
The chayote which was a favorite crop of the Aztecs, hundreds of years ago, remains so, even today. It’s delicious, healthy, and easily available.