Valuing Native Crops Once Again
Once appreciated only by foragers, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is gaining notariety far as a delicious and uniquely American fruit. Once the pawpaw was a strictly wild food – harvested for centuries by indigenous communities. It is now swiftly becoming a cultivated crop available to consumers and home gardeners alike. If we want to learn to value and enjoy our native foods, the pawpaw is a great place to start.
Pawpaws grow in zones 5-9. In the wild, they grow in riparian woodland. Because the young trees are evolved to grow in shade, young pawpaw trees need sun protection. Without it, they can suffer severe sunburn and quickly die. Mature trees can handle full sun. The trees also have a deep tap root, do not transplant well, and prefer well-draining soil.
Here in Oregon, I am far outside its native range. However, the trees are healthy and vigorous, and I am able to good crops in early Autumn. Know what your tree needs to be happy, and give it the right growing conditions, and you, too, can grow pawpaws in your garden.
Pawpaws are an ancient tree. They evolved before bees. Thus, the trees rely on a different pollinator: flies (and to an extent, beetles). Some gardeners hang bags of rotting meat in the trees to attract flies to the flowers and increase pollination. I prefer to use a paint brush, and hand pollinate daily during the bloom period in order to get good fruit-set.
Pawpaw (also written Paw Paw) is unlike any other fruit in my garden. The only cultivated temperate member of the tropical custard apple family, pawpaws have a sweet yellow flesh. It has been described as “vanilla custard”, “mango and pudding, “tropical banana”. I personally think it tastes very much like bananas (hence, the nickname, Indiana Banana), but with a funky quality that is difficult to describe and reminds me a bit of durian, or jackfruit.
Be aware that pawpaws have a very short season. If you want to enjoy the fruit, you need to eat it in the few days after it falls from the tree. The fruit does not ship, lasts only a few days, and bruises easily. This means, if you want to enjoy it, your best bet is to grow it yourself. (It does freeze well and makes delicious ice cream, so extra fruit can be preserved in the freezer).
More Info On Growing and Enjoying
If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend Michael Judd’s book, For the Love of Paw Paws , which is available through my affiliate link:
Purchase: One Green World Nursery carries the largest selection of pawpaws that I know of. They are lovely folks, and I got my trees from them years ago. https://onegreenworld.com/product-category/fruiting-trees-shrubs/pawpaw/
Lastly, check out my recent video on some of my pawpaws: