Sunday, October 18, 2009

Paw Paws!

Whenever I wandered through the hills and swampy bottomlands during my youth, I always kept an eye out for pawpaws. I never found one of these fascinating North American "bananas" until today - at our University orchard store.

Asimina triloba is a small understorey tree graced with large, dark green leaves that allude to the primarily tropical home of its family. The pawpaw received its name from an early Spanish explorer who confused this plant with the tropical papaya.

In spring, pawpaws produce small, maroon flowers. Although these flowers contain both male and female parts, they are self-incompatible. Some botanists estimate that fewer than 1% of flowers ever produce fruit! Inefficient pollination (plus poor storage properties) limit commercial production of this fruit.
(although Kentucky State is working hard to change this)

Poor pollination efficiency may also arise from the evolutionary strategy that the pawpaw takes. Some flowers in the pawpaw family (e.g. white-flowered Asimina species) pursue an "honest, rewards-based" strategy, exuding sweet-smelling, fruity scents that attract and feed beetles. Maroon-flowered species (like the pawpaw itself), instead exude fermented/decaying scents, mimicking rotting meat in an effort to trick flies into pollination. Some farmers have attempted to attract more flies by hanging rotting meat from their trees! (but hand pollination is recommended).

I left the green fruits in a paper bag to ripen until they were mostly black and smelled faintly of pineapple and licorice. Like thin-skinned avocados, the inside of the fruit contained a few large seeds and a custard-like fruit that tasted kinda like mango.

I put the seeds in the fridge to see if I can break dormancy and germinate them.

Charles Fergus. Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast. 2002.


  1. Thanks for this info! I've been curious about them since I had my first paw paws a month ago, from an old Maryland farmer who was selling them at the local farmers market. He confessed that he didn't care for the taste, but I thought they were totally delicious. I also saved the seeds but haven't looked into how they're best propagated.

  2. Sure thing! I was disappointed that I didn't really like them - though I don't like mangoes either. It's easy to google info on germinating the seeds. Mine are currently wrapped up in damp paper in the fridge. If they survive, I'll post the results.

  3. We actually have a grove on the UWO Campus in London, Ontario (zone 5/6). I've never seen any fruit but I've seen flowers and there are hundreds of young trees.



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