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Chayote (Sechium edule) is a member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), but unlike the familiar melons, gourds, squashes, and pumpkins, the fruits of which contain many seeds, the Chayote fruit contains just a single seed.

Chayote was probably domesticated in Central America (most likely Guatemala) or Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs in Pre-Columbian times (Newstrom 1991). It is now grown throughout the tropics and subtropics. Chayote is commercially important in several countries, particularly in Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico, and Costa Rica. It is popular in the West Indies as well. Chayote's survival outside cultivation is favored by its self-compatible breeding system and generalist pollinator syndrome. In areas where it is known to be introduced, Chayote has frequently naturalized; e.g., in Java and Réunion. (Newstrom 1991 and references therein)

Chayote is an herbaceous perennial vine with branched tendrils. The angled hollow stem is longitudinally furrowed and covered sparsely with trichomes. The shoots, after emergence from the sprouted fruit, elongate rapidly for the first few meters, but the growth rate subsequently declines. With the decline of stem elongation, the lower axillary lateral shoots grow rapidly and the vines can attain lengths of 6 to 15 m, depending on circumstances. The 7 to 25 cm wide leaves are broadly ovate, angled, or slightly lobed and cordate (heart-shaped) at the base and apiculate (tapered) at the apex. The petiole (leaf stalk) is 3 to 15 cm long. The leaves resemble those of cucumber (Cucumis sativus) The greenish or cream-colored flowers are borne in the leaf axils, the male flowers (which have prominent nectaries) in small peduncled (stalked) clusters and the female flowers singly (both types of flowers are present on the same plant). The calyx (the collective term for a flower's sepals) is deeply five-parted and the corolla (the collective term for a flower's petals) is rotate (flat-faced and wheel-shaped). The five stamens have fused filaments; the ovary is inferior and the style and stigma form a small head. After pollination by bees (or humans), the ovary grows into a fleshy 10 to 20 cm long pear-shaped fruit with longitudinal furrows. The whitish flesh of the fruit encloses the single seed, which is flat, white, and around 3 to 5 cm long. The surface of the white or green fruit may be spiny or smooth.The root is large and tuberous. Unlike other cucurbits, which are propagated by seeds, Chayote is propagated using the entire fruit. It is also viviparous, with a sprout developing from the embryo of the seed while the fruit is still attached to and growing on the vine.

Chayote fruit can be boiled, baked, or fried as a vegetable and included in sauces, puddings, tarts, and salads. The composition of the flesh is similar to that of many other cucurbits. Other parts of the plant are eaten as well, including the subterranean root (which is around 20% carbohydrate), young leaves, and tender shoots.

(Aung et al. 1990 and references therein; Vaughan and Geissler 1997)

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