The Babaco (Vasconcellea × heilbornii; syn. Carica pentagona), is a hybrid cultivar in the genus Vasconcellea from Ecuador. It is a hybrid between Vasconcellea cundinamarcensis (syn. Carica pubescens), and Vasconcellea stipulata (syn. Carica stipulata).
It can grow at high altitudes (over 2,000 m), and is the most cold-tolerant plant in the genus Vasconcellea. The babaco is classified as a herbaceous shrub like Carica papaya (pawpaw or papaya) but unlike papaya it produces only female flowers. The babaco plant can produce from 30–60 fruits annually, and has an average life span of about eight years. The small plant makes a good container specimen and it is better suited than its cousin the papaya which needs constant moisture and high temperatures to survive.
It is a small unbranched or sparsely branched tree reaching 5–8 m tall. The fruit differs from the related papaya (C. papaya) in being narrower, typically less than 10 cm in diameter. The babaco fruit is seedless and the smooth skin can be eaten and is said to have a tastes of strawberry, papaya, kiwi and pineapple. The fruit is pentagonal in shape, therefore giving it the scientific name of Carica pentagona. The fruit is not especially acidic but contains papain, a proteolytic enzyme, which may cause mild irritation or “burns”.
Like the papaya, the babaco is grown for its edible fruit and for its fruit juice. Cultivation away from its native range has been successful as far south as New Zealand, in California, some regions of England, and north to Guernsey, Channel Islands, and somewhat also in Italy (mostly Sicily and Calabria).