Tom Houlihan, a resident of Flossmoor and former editor of Chronicle, gives the village $ 1,000 for the papayas

Jalen Coles-Foster, left, of Flossmoor Public Works, and Dave Becker, right, the village arborist, start planting some of the 17 papayas the village bought with a $ 1,000 donation from Tom Houlihan, at center. (Photo provided)

For the first time, papayas can be found in public spaces around Flossmoor.

This is thanks to a $ 1,000 donation from Tom Houlihan to the village, who has purchased 17 of the native trees and is in the process of planting them in five different locations. Village arborist Dave Becker is one of those who rejoice in generosity.

“It’s a great gift from Tom,” Becker said. “We’re really excited about this.”

Houlihan has three papayas in his garden. He and Becker said a few other residents have them too, but this is the first time they will appear in spaces belonging to the village.

“It’s great to see the papayas come into the village,” Becker said. “They are unique, a different tree.”

Papayas are planted near the Heather Hill Holding Pond, on the Sterling Avenue Right-of-Way, Butterfield Road Right-of-Way, along the bike path at the end of Dartmouth Road and on Thornwood Drive Island. . Becker said these locations will give them the opportunity to spread, fill and form settlements. Houlihan noted that they pollinate each other, so it is important that they come close to each other, as the pollination must come from another papaya tree.

Naturally, they grow in lowland forests as shade-loving understory trees and wetlands, Becker explained. They thrive near flood plains.

“We have planted these trees in locations that meet the requirements,” Becker said. “These will be low maintenance trees once established. We will water them regularly during their establishment period, this fall and next year. They will take care of themselves once they have their root systems established.

While papaya typically grows wild in the south, it is the northernmost member of a tropical tree family, according to a social media post from the village. Unlike most species of fruit trees, which have been cultivated overseas and imported to the United States, papayas are native to America. They start out small and skinny, and although Becker noted that they can eventually grow to 20 feet tall, Houlihan added that they don’t get much wider.

“They are really skinny,” Houlihan said. “They will always be very skinny. They’re kind of weird, but they’re very, very interesting.

Flossmoor officials expect trees to provide a number of benefits, including tropical fruits.

Mayor Michelle Nelson said their fruit was delicious. The first time she got it, it actually came from one of the trees in Houlihan.

“I had never heard of the fruit until a neighbor shared one from the Houlihan garden with me,” Nelson said. “I am delighted that current and future residents are discovering the trees and tasting the fruits. “

Houlihan warned it could take some time. After planting the three trees in his garden, it took them 6-7 years to bear fruit. But he said it was worth the wait.

“They taste really good,” Houlihan said. ” They are adorable. They are creamy. They have a really unique flavor. Every time I give them to someone, they’re just blown away by the taste.

Houlihan said he was first interested in trees because his wife, Patty, went to Paw Paw Lake in Michigan. He began to realize how many places in the Midwest had variations of this name and researched it. What he found was that all the names were all based on this tree.

“It’s that legendary tree,” Houlihan said.

Papayas are considered semi-tropical, he said, often growing near southern rivers. But Houlihan’s research also led him to something that says Chicago is the most northerly where they will grow in the wild. So he decided to give it a try. They are not difficult to grow, he says.

“If I can grow them, anyone can grow them,” Houlihan joked.

He did some pollination experiments, noting that trees are pollinated by flies instead of bees. They show blood red flowers around April, and after they are pollinated, there are buds. The fruit goes from about the size of a gum to the size of a potato when everything goes according to plan, Houlihan said. This year he harvested 25-30 fruits from his trees, which he said wasn’t bad, but he was hoping for more after spotting hundreds of buds.

“I’m still waiting for the bumper harvest to happen,” he said. “Like many things in life, it was an accident that also went well.”

Houlihan got his paws from Possibility Place nursery in Monee, which specializes in native species. The village used the same source. Houlihan said the idea of ​​distributing the wealth started to materialize after sending a note to village director Bridget Wachtel to introduce the idea of ​​a donation to expose more people in town to trees.

“I thought about it last year, to give money to the village so that they can have papayas,” Houlihan said. “The main goal I did it for is that I thought it would be good for the city and I thought the city would benefit from having something that is truly a unique American tree.”

Planting began in late September and Becker said they hope to have more in the ground in the first two weeks of October. Houlihan said it was a pleasure to see it all come together.

“It was really exciting,” he said. “It made me feel good. I think it’s good for the city that they have these things. It’s a very tree-centric community, but with the exception of a few people’s backyards, there aren’t any. I thought it would be a really interesting tree for the village.

Nelson called the Houlihan “gems in this community of actors.”

“The generosity of locals like the Houlihan is part of what makes Flossmoor such a beautiful village,” said Nelson. “I love it when the neighbors share their passions and interests with all of Flossmoor.”

Houlihan spent 18 years in his home on Flossmoor. In addition to papayas, it has some oaks, blue beeches and a catalpa. He also planted serviceberry trees in an attempt to attract cedar waxwings, which love the fruit.

“We try to attract as many birds as possible,” Houlihan said. “This is one of the reasons we like to have all the trees.

Editor’s Note: While he was editor-in-chief of the HF Chronicle, Tom Houlihan occasionally discussed in his columns his interest in papayas.

Tom Houlihan, former editor of The Chronicle, shows off the papayas he planted eight years ago in his garden on Flossmoor. (Bill Jones / HF Chronicle)

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