are native to the Eastern woodlands of the United States. They go by a
variety of names, including sugar apple, custard apple, sweetsop, and
poor man’s banana.
They produce the largest edible fruit indigenous to this country. The
pawpaw was once planted at Monticello and prized by Thomas Jefferson.
Said to be a favorite dessert of George Washington, its history goes
back to native Americans, who propagated it for its large, delicious
fruit. Records show that in 1806 Lewis and Clark relied on this fruit
during their travels.
The pawpaw, an understory tree, grows best in dabbled shade when young,
but produces larger and more abundant fruit in full sun. Some growers
recommend planting new trees under a shade screen. A deciduous tree
growing from 15 to 20 feet tall with glossy, dark green leaves, it has
a narrow conical shape.
Its long, oval leaves reflect its relation to tropical trees. The tree
produces velvety maroon, upside-down flowers in the spring, and its
leaves turn a pretty yellow in the fall. The beautiful zebra
swallowtail butterfly is one of the few insects that eat these leaves.
by seed is difficult. The pawpaw requires a minimum of 400 hours of
winter chill and 160 frost-free days, as well as two different
varieties for pollination and fruit. Pawpaws take patience to grow,
requiring at least five years’ maturity to bear fruit. The
easiest way to grow a pawpaw is by root cuttings. Suckers naturally
spread the plants into groves. Remember the old school song “Way
down yonder by the pawpaw patch?”
You can buy pawpaw trees propagated commercially. Look for cultivars
like PA Golden, Sunflower, Triple Play or Wellis. Many of the best
growers have waiting lists because of the renewed interest in this
The large fruit is smooth green and shaped like a potato. Soft when
ripe, the light lemon-colored flesh is dotted by large, lima
bean-shaped black seeds. Fruits can be up to a pound each and grow in
clusters. People compare the taste to a combination of flavors --
banana, melon, and pineapple.
The soft, ripe pawpaws are difficult to transport and have a very short
shelf-life, making them unattractive to commercial growers. There are
currently very few pawpaw orchards, so if you want to enjoy this native
fruit, your best bet is to grow your own or look for them in late
summer at the farmers market.
Paw Paw Tree