Chayote, Mirliton, Vegetable Pear

Sechium edule is a member of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family.

The chayote plant has climbing vines and leaves resembling those of a cucumber. In the tropics the plant is a perennial with stems 50 or more feet long and possessing tendrils. The plant produces separate male and female flowers, and bees are required for pollination. The light green, pear-shaped fruit contains a single, edible seed about one to two inches long. Varieties range from almost smooth to deeply ridged and from cream to apple green in color. It may have nonsticking prickles covering it. The fruit may weigh from eight to ten ounces to more than a pound and is three to eight inches long. It was cultivated centuries ago in Central America by the Aztecs and Mayans.

Other names. Tao tah (Hmong); hayato uri (Japanese); fut shau kua, ngow-lai choi, tsai hsio li (Chinese); sayote (Filipino); xu-xu, trai su (Vietnamese); cho cho (West Indies); mirliton (Louisiana); vegetable pear.

Market information

Marketing.

Chayote may be found in many ethnic markets including Asian, Indian, North American, Caribbean and Latin American. It has become a familiar sight in many major supermarkets. The prickly varieties aren't grown much anymore but could be good crops for a small grower because they are unusual and have different tastes.

Current production and yield. California, Florida, Costa Rica, and Mexico are main suppliers. It is available year-round, but most abundant September through May. Chayotes will yield 15 to 20 tons per acre.

Fresh and frozen chayote imported into the United States has increased steadily from 5,232,000 pounds in 1980 to 13,543,000 pounds in 1988.

Use. The chayote is served creamed, buttered, fried, stuffed, baked, frittered, boiled, mashed, pickled, in salads, in soups and stews, or in pies. It has crisp, pale flesh with an apple and cucumber flavor blend. In many countries the young shoots, flowers, seeds and roots are frequently eaten.

Nutrition. Low in calories (40 calories per cup), low in sodium and a good source of fiber. In many respects the nutritional value is similar to summer squash.

Culture

Climatic requirements. Plant in early spring or when the ground has sufficiently warmed. Sometimes, the fruit needs to be completely covered to protect it from cold damage.

Chayote is a warm season crop. Vine growth is luxuriant in less favorable climatic conditions, but fruit production may be greatly reduced. Chayote blooms when daylight is shortened in late summer through fall. The fruit must mature before the cooler days of winter. In the San Diego and Los Angeles areas the plants do not bloom until late August or September. Winter frost usually causes the dieback of the vine. Vines will regrow with the return of warmer temperatures and can continue production for a number of years. Records from the Panama Canal Zone, where day length is about 12.5 hours throughout the year, indicate that chayote blooms and produces fruit every month. The fruit reaches full size in about 30 days.

One source (Aung, 1990) said chayote could be grown in temperate climates by artificially controlling day length. After six to eight weeks of growth thc vines can be shaded with dark cloth on a frame to keep sunlight to eight hours each day for the next four to six weeks. The frame could be moved to shade the vines at about 4:00 pm and removed after sunrise at about 8:00 am. After flowers develop the vines can grow under normal daylength.

Propagation and care. Some type of trellis or support is required to produce chayotes. Structures similar to grape arbors are frequently used. With vine growth trained over the top, fruits can be harvested from below. Vertical trellises are also used. Plant one fruit per hill, in hills spaced 12 feet apart and in rows spaced 12 feet apart. Stem cuttings may provide greater uniformity of plant type. Plant the whole fruit on its side with the stem end sloping upward. Fruit obtained from a supermarket will sprout when kept in subdued light, and are ideal for planting. Fertilization is similar to summer squash. In many areas both nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer is required. Irrigation may be required one to two times per week depending on temperature and soil texture. Over mature fruit will sprout on the vine and are still edible depending on the cuisine prepared.

Pests. Leaf-eating beetles and snails occasionally reduce plant growth. Leaf-feeding insects, unless seriously damaging plant growth, seldom require control measures. Nematodes occasionally reduce chayote yields and have to be controlled several weeks prior to planting.

Postharvest Handling. (Section by Marita Cantwell, Postharvest Specialist, UC Davis). Chayote fruits are often individually wrapped in tissue paper or polybags (to reduce friction and water loss) in single-layer flats. Increased decay is sometimes observed on fruits stored in polybags since moisture condensation on the fruit surface is increased. Germination of the seed is a problem if the fruit is held at temperatures above 13-14c (56-58F). The chayote is also susceptible to chilling injury and show distinct chilling symptoms depending on the storage temperature. Surface bronzing occurs on fruits held at 2.5-5c (36-41F), and surface pitting, decay and internal browning appeared in storage at 5-7.5c (41-45F). A storage temperature of 7.5-10c (45-50F) should extend shelf life up to 4 weeks.

Sources

More information:

Yamaguchi, Mas. World Vegetables. AVI Publishing Company, Inc. Westport, Conn. 339-341 pp.

The Packer. 1989 Produce Availability and Merchandising Guide.

Stephens, James. Minor Vegetables. Univ. of Florida CE Bull SP-40, 1988.

Hall, B.J. Chayote Production. U.C. Ag. Ext. Service OSA 36, 1958 (out of print).

California Agricultural Statistics Service, CDFA. 1987 Agricultural Commissioner Data.

Economic Research Service. Vegetables and Specialties: Situation and Outlook Yearbook. USDA. Nov 1989.

Tropical Products Transport Handbook. USDA Agric. Handbook 668. 1987.

Aung, Louis H.; Amelia Ball; and Mosbah Kushad. Developmental and Nutritional Aspects of Chayote. Economic Botany 44(2): 157-164. 1990.

Cantwell, Marita. Postharvest Handling of Specialty Crops: Chayote. Perishables Handling, No. 61, April 1987. Vegetable Crops Dept., Univ. of California, Davis.

Captions:

Figure 1. The chayote fruit can be seen here hanging from the vine on a trellis structure. (Photo by Hunter Johnson).

Figure 2. Chayote squash on sale at a grocery store. (Photo by Charlotte Glenn).

Compiled by Claudia Myers, UC Small Farm Center; and Keith Mayberry, Imperial County Cooperative Extension as an update of Bernarr Hall's Chayote Production in California, leaflet OSA #36, 1958.

Reviewed by Hunter Johnson, 9/30/89.

Reviewed by Keith Mayberry, 5/1990.

Reviewed by Stephen Brown, 10/1991.

Reviewed by Marita Cantwell, 11/91.

7/14/92