The pawpaw is not only native to North America, but it is also the most northern species in the Annonaceae family, a mostly tropical custard apple family.
In 1541, a Portuguese officer made the first written account of the pawpaw while he was on an expedition of the southeastern United States. He wrote about the Native Americans growing and eating pawpaws in the Mississippi Valley region. Members of this expedition named the pawpaw after the papaya due to their similarities. In some areas around the world, the papaya is also called pawpaw which can lead to some confusion.
The zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus) caterpillars feed only on Asimina leaves. Acetogenins, found in the leaves, bark, and twigs, is repellent to most insects and birds so the caterpillars will feed on the leaves of the pawpaw to avoid being eaten. In pawpaw orchards, the zebra swallowtail is not considered a pest as their effect on the pawpaws are negligible.
In 1916, the American Genetic Association had a contest and a cash prize for the largest individual pawpaw tree and for the tree with the best fruit.
If you crush the leaves of the pawpaw it often smells like a green pepper or gasoline.
The fruit has a custard texture and many say it has a banana-mango flavor. Some also say it has a melon or pineapple flavor in addition to the banana flavor.
Common Name: Pawpaw, Poor Man’s Banana
Scientific Name: Asimina triloba
Leaves-alternative, simple, oblong in shape, can reach 10-12 inches in length
Bark-smooth when young, brown-grayish, becomes warty as it grows
Twig/Bud-naked, brown-gray, buds are fuzzy, rusty-dark brown in color, look like a paint brush
Flower-lavender to dark purple-red to purple-brown, droops, 3 outer & 3 inner petals
Fruit-3-5inches, green-brown, elongated, slightly curved-banana or lima bean shape
Height-up to about 10 meters (32.8 feet)
Harvest Time: Fruit in late fall
Parts Edible: Fruit
Found: Native to the midwest and east coast of the US, parts of Canada, likes rich mesic sites and moist places
*Endangered in New Jersey and threatened in New York
-Leaves were once used to tenderize meat
-Powdered seeds were used to treat lice
-Juice of the unripened fruit & powdered seeds once used as a vermifuge (an agent that destroys or expels parasitic worms)
Vitamins, Minerals, & More
-Contains vitamins C & A
-Contains Riboflavin (vitamin B2) & Niacin (vitamin B3)
-High in Potassium, Magnesium, & Calcium
-Contains all of the essential amino acids
-Powdered seeds have insecticidal properties
-Fruit is eaten by itself
-Fruit is added to salsa
-Fruit used in making beer
-Fruit used in desserts
-Do not eat the seeds! They are toxic! It is also recommended that you not eat the skin.
-Leaves could cause a rash
-Unripe fruit can cause diarrhea and discomfort
-All parts of the plant contain acetogenins, which can cause nerve degeneration over a period of long exposure but is also a possible antitumor, antiviral, antimicrobial, and antimalarial.
-Best time to harvest pawpaws is in late summer-early autumn
-Pawpaws can be left out to ripen in a few days, however, if harvested too soon they will never get ripe.
-Ripe pawpaws can be green-yellow and can develop spots like a banana
-You can tell the ripeness like you would a peach
-It is also ripe when it has a strong, pleasant aroma
-Shaking the fruit out of the tree can bruise/damage the fruit and could possibly hurt the harvester. Use caution while harvesting but don’t damage the tree to get to the fruit!
Practicing Sustainable Wild Harvesting
- Only harvest plants you know are safe and can identify
- Only harvest plants in safe areas that are not contaminated or polluted
- Do not harvest on private property without permission
- Harvest no more than 10% or use the method: take 1 leave 2
- Know how to handle and prepare the plants you are harvesting
- Always check the legal status of the plant you want to harvest (is it endangered?)
–The Pawpaw, a Forgotten North American Fruit Tree
–Pawpaw Description and Nutritional Information
-Foster, Steven, and James Duke A. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 369-70. Print.
-Profant, Dennis. Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of Southeastern Ohio and Appalachia. By Bill Perine. 4th ed. N.p.: n.p., 2007. 121. Print.