Chigualcan: Characteristics, Habitat, Uses And Properties

The chigualcan ( Vasconcellea pubescens ) is a tall perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the Caricaceae family. Originally from South America, it is cultivated from Colombia to Chile in mountain ecosystems on altitudinal levels above 1,200 meters above sea level.

Known as mountain papaya, in each region it acquires a particular name; In Ecuador it is called scent papaya, chilhuacán, chamburu or chiglacón. In Bolivia it is called huanarpu female; in Chile, papaya; and in Peru, Arequipa papaya.

The harvested fruit of Vasconcellea pubescens has a high agronomic potential due to its organoleptic properties and high protein and vitamin content. In addition, the latex exuded by some structures of the plant is used as healing and for the treatment of gastric ulcers.

In some regions of the Andean mountain range, it constitutes an occasional crop that generates employment and livelihoods for peasant families. However, in some regions -as in Chile- it is cultivated industrially in small areas as a source of raw material for agribusiness.

The chigualcan plant is a tree that can reach 8-10 m in height with a structure similar to papaya or papaya. The difference from tropical fruit is the abundant pubescence on the underside of the leaves in V. pubescens .

General characteristics


The trunk is made up of one or more straight, thick and roughly branched stems. It is a slow growing species, continuous vegetative development in hot climates, and a productive life of 5-7 years.


Perennial leaves, deeply palmate and stellate, long and broad -20-25 cm long x 35-45 cm wide- covered with fine hairs on the underside. The main lobe of each leaf is subdivided into lateral lobes -3-5- with prominent veins.

Each leaf is preceded by a long petiole -15-35 cm- rounded of light color. Both the stem and petiole, flowers and immature fruits exude latex when they present cuts or wounds.


Flowers sprout from the leaf axils below the leaves on the main stem. Each flower has five thick, pubescent petals, yellowish-green in color, very fragrant, with a high latex content when immature.

Most of the plants are dioecious, some monoecious and hermaphrodite, presenting both sexes in the same flower. In this species, similar to C. papaya , the flowers have the ability to change sex annually due to climatic changes.


The fruits are born from the foliar axils from the main stem, they are characterized by having five faces and a yellow-orange color. In cold areas, fruiting occurs from spring to autumn, however, in warm areas it occurs throughout the year.

The fruits are smaller -10-20 cm in length- when compared to the tropical papaya ( Carica papaya ). The pulp of the fruit is very juicy, yellow in color, with a sweet fruity aroma and slightly acid taste. The maturation period is 3-4 months in cold areas.

The fruit has an edible pulp yield of 46%. In addition, it has 5-7% in total amount of sugars and a high content of the enzyme papain.

Plants start fruit production after two years, with an average annual production of 50-60 fruits per plant.

Distribution and habitat

Vasconcellea pubescens is native to South America, grows wild from Colombia to Bolivia, and is commercially cultivated in Chile. In Ecuador it is highly appreciated for its organoleptic characteristics, this being the country where the largest number of species are described.

It is a robust-looking plant that adapts to cold climates and misty forests of the Andean mountain range, even when it adapts to subtropical and warm temperate zones.

It requires average annual rainfall of 1,000 – 1,700 mm, but tolerates ranges of 500 – 2,500 mm. It prefers average temperatures between 17 ° and 22 ° C. Despite tolerating frosts, they must be of short duration.

In relation to the soil, it requires fertile and well-drained soils, with a pH in the range of 6 – 7. It is a plant that develops in full sun exposure, but in a protected way.


The Vasconcellea genus belongs to the Caricaceae family along with the Carica , Cylicomorpha , Horovitzia , Jacaratia and Jarilla genera . The genera Carica and Vasconcellea have similar phenotypic characteristics, which is why they share the common name “papaya” in different regions.

Of the 21 species that make up the genus Vasconcellea, 19 are trees commonly known as “high mountain papaya”. They are located mainly in the high areas of the Andean regions of South America and constitute the most numerous genus of the Caricacea family.

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Brassicales
  • Family: Caricaceae
  • Genus:  Vasconcellea
  • Species:  Vasconcellea pubescens A.DC.


The fruit of Vasconcellea pubescens is consumed fresh due to its pleasant organoleptic characteristics. Likewise, it is used to prepare juices, jams, desserts and as an additive in pastry by the various Andean communities.

Chigualcan has a high content of papain -proteolytic enzyme- used in the agroindustry, textile and pharmaceutical industries. In addition, it is a species of high genetic value that is used in the improvement of papaya by incorporating genes resistant to different viruses.

Papain is also used in gastronomy to tenderize meats and is an ingredient for the beer industry and traditional beverages. In cosmetology it is used to make creams, due to its ability to lighten skin blemishes and healing power.


The fruit has high levels of vitamin A , and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which favor a low incidence of cataracts and macular degeneration. Likewise, it contains elements such as calcium, phosphate, iron, magnesium, folic acid, fibers and proteolytic enzymes.

Health properties

The papain present in V. pubescens is a proteolytic enzyme that has the property of digesting proteins and fatty acids in food. Indeed, the greatest amount of papain is found in the latex of stems, leaves and green fruits of the chigualcan.

For health papain has the following properties:

– Stimulates the production of pancreatic juices favoring the digestion of heavy meals, fat reduction and natural detoxification.

– Prevents gastrointestinal problems, colitis and irritable bowel.

– Intestinal astringent effect relieving stomach problems caused by food with high fat content.

– Promotes weight loss due to fiber content. Fiber helps with healthy digestion.

– Anti-inflammatory properties used to treat bruises and edema caused by bumps and abrasions.

– It is recommended for the relief of bronchial and skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and insect bites.

– Promote the formation of strong teeth and bones due to the contribution of calcium.

– As a source of b-carotene it contributes to the maintenance of visual health.

– Vermicidal effect, since it has the property of destroying and facilitating the expulsion of worms and intestinal parasites.

– The seeds have a high content of oleic acid -omega 9- which favors the elimination and accumulation of fat in the blood vessels, improving the cardiovascular health of people.


  1. Benítez, Sandra Patricia; Mario, Wolf; Delgado, Oscar Arturo & Medina, Clara Inés. (2013). Germination and dormancy removal studies in papaya seeds Vasconcellea cundinamarcensis and Vasconcellea goudotiana. Agricultural Science and Technology, 14 (2), 187-197.
  2. Castilla Coaguila Carlos Alberto (2016) Determination of the in vitro antibacterial effect of the extract of the leaves of Carica pubescens L. (caricaceae) “Arequipa papaya” against pathogenic bacteria. National University of San Agustín. Faculty of Biological and Agricultural Sciences (Graduate Thesis).
  3. Noriega, P., Calero, D., Larenas, C., Maldonado, ME, & Vita Finzi, P. (2014). Volatile components of the fruits of Vasconcellea pubescens A. DC. and Passiflora tripartita var. mollissima (Kunth) using HS-SPME-GC / MS methodology.
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  5. Salvatierra-González, MA, & Jana-Ayala, C. (2016). Floral expression and pollen germination ability in productive mountain papaya (Vasconcellea pubescens A. DC.) Orchards. Chilean journal of agricultural research, 76 (2), 136-142.
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  8. Vasconcellea pubescens A.DC. (2019) Useful Tropical Plants. Ken Fern. Recovered at:

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