The PawPaw: Taste of the Tropics

The PawPaw: Taste of the Tropics

The Common Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a small tree or shrub that produces large, custardy fruits that are similar in texture and taste to bananas or mangoes. It is one of the only cold-hardy members of the custard apple family (Annonaceae), most of which grow in tropical or subtropical climates, and it is native to much of the Eastern United States and as far north as Ontario.

The fruits of the pawpaw are not only refreshingly tropical in taste (chilled pawpaw was a favorite dessert of George Washington), they are also highly nutritious. It has twice the vitamin C content of common fruits like apples and grapes, and is high in protein, dietary fiber, various antioxidants, and healthful unsaturated fatty acids. Unfortunately, the fruits are highly perishable and must be eaten quickly when ripe, or used for baking, canning, or other preserves.

The fruits are also enjoyed by mammals such as whitetail deer, foxes, and squirrels.

The pawpaw has few pests, though it is the sole host plant for the caterpillars of the lovely Zebra Swallowtail butterfly. It can be somewhat difficult to pollinate. The flowers are ignored by bees and must be cross-pollinated by flies or by hand instead. Like most fly-pollinated plants, the blossoms both look and smell like rotting fruit or meat and the tree should not be planted too close to open windows as a result.

A few other pawpaw species are native to the United States, but most are confined to Florida and the Deep South. These include:

  • Slimleaf pawpaw (Asimina angustifolia)
  • Woolly pawpaw (Asimina incana)
  • Bigflower pawpaw (Asimina obovata)
  • Smallflower pawpaw (Asimina parviflora)
  • Dwarf pawpaw (Asimina pygmea)
  • Netted pawpaw (Asimina reticulata)
  • Fourpetal pawpaw (Asimina tetramera)
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