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The Paw Paw Fruit Tree – a True American

Where do Paw Paws Grow?

Have you heard of paw paw fruit tree? Whether you write it as pawpaw or paw paw, this is a back roads country fruit worth getting to know.

The paw paw fruit tree — Asimina triloba — is the largest edible wild fruit native to the USA.

Pawpaws can be found growing wild in the southeastern states in USDA zones 5A through 9. Pawpaws grow best in moist bottomland, and well drained areas that are sunny or partly shaded.[1]https://www.blossomnursery.com/pawpaw_HABITAT.html

For more fruit, they need more sun. Streams and river banks are good places to find paw paws. There, you have the moisture, and yet the sky clearing carved out in the woods by the stream or river body creates enough sun for pawpaws to bear fruit.

Pawpaws like a moist bed, often growing around stream banks.

Paw paws are delicious, and reminiscent of a combination of banana and mango puree in flavor and texture.

What do Paw Paws Taste Like?

The paw paw is a creamy sweet fruit reminiscent with a hint of flowers. Our family consensus is that pawpaws taste like a creamy mango and banana smoothie with hints of intrigue.

Pawpaws are a homely fruit a plain green outer skin often mottled with black spots. The seeds are large brown kidney bean shaped seeds occupying a large portion of the pale yellow pulp interior.

You can scrape out the seeds, scoop out the pulp in pudding-like dollops rather than slices or chunks.

Everyone has their own way of describing it. Here are some examples:

Descriptions of How Paw Paw Fruit Tastes – Like a smoothie blend that includes

  • Mango banana
  • Peach, mango, banana
  • Creamy mango papaya custard
  • Kiwi banana

“The flavor of pawpaw fruit is often compared to bananas, with hints of mango, vanilla, and citrus.”
~Elizabeth Matthews, Botanist for National Capital Region Network

When Can Pawpaw Trees be Planted?

Pawpaws can be grown from seeds, however, they’re not clones, so may not produce the same quality fruit as the original.

For bests results, buy grafted pawpaw fruit tree cultivars that will retain identity of the parent. It’s usually recommended to buy two plants, preferably two different varieties. They’re usually sold and shipped at around 2 years old and can be planted in spring or fall.[2]https://www.ncpawpaw.com/NC_PAW_PAW/Information_files/Pawpaw%20Planting%20Guide.pdf

Young plants should be planted in partial shade to full sun, the older they are. Pawpaw native habitat tends to be near river banks and in lowland areas at the end of the woods.

How do Paw Paw Trees Grow?

Most fruit trees take a five years on average, to produce fruit from seed. In true southern style, paw paws won’t be rushed. It may be as soon as four years, or it could be as long as eight.

For that reason, it may be worth it to buy your first couple paw paws saplings, so you’ll have a head start. Then you can also work on saving and planting seeds. Just remember that growing from seeds is no guarantee that the fruit will be the same as the parent fruit.

How to Grow Paw Paw Trees from Seeds

  • Warning: seeds grown from a fruit may not produce the same quality fruit as the original.
  • Keep Moist: Dried paw paw seeds are not likely to grow.
  • Stratify: Refrigerate over winter, layered in moist paper towels in a plastic container of zip bag.
  • Plant: Plant paw paw seeds! Once you’ve had the seeds in the fridge for four months, plant them in spring.
  • Fruit: Bears fruit in 4-8 years
  • Ripens: Late summer, peaks September-October

Caution: Growing fruit from seeds may not produce the same quality fruit as the original.

When do Pawpaws Bear Fruit?

Pawpaw begin flower and bear fruit in 4-8 years, depending on the growing conditions and care. However, grafted plants may flower as early as 2-3 years.

This should get you started, but your nursery or grower can tell you more about your specific plant, and of course all trees you buy should come with care instructions.[3]https://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/faq.htm#q16

Where to Buy Paw Paw Fruit Trees?

The challenge with growing most fruit trees is that they can take 2-8 years to fruit. That’s a long time to invest in a plant before knowing if the fruit will be any good. However, it just goes with the territory of growing fruit trees.

So go with reputable buyers; ask your local nursery, and if you purchase from Amazon, be sure to check the seller reviews as well as the product/plant reviews.

We love growing Meyers Lemons, and purchased 2 year old plants from our local nursery, so you could check there first for yours. Some of them may also have pawpaws, or be able to get them for you.

Paw Paw Tips and Tour at Edible Landscaping

We visited the Edible Landscaping nursery paw paw tasting and tour in September and got some video footage to share with their permission.

https://youtu.be/GQpr6i1-Afs
About the Paw Paw Fruit and Tree with George at Edible Landscaping

The Paw Paw Song

And of course there’s the Pawpaw song! Perhaps you remember it…?

Lyrics to the Pawpaw Song:

Put a Pawpaw in Your Pocket

Where, oh where is dear little Nellie?
Where, oh where is dear little Nellie?
Where, oh where is dear little Nellie?
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.

Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in your pocket,
Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in your pocket,
Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in your pocket,
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.
~American Folk Song

Paw Paw Festivals

Well, we kind of paid a visit to the pawpaw patch. We met a lot of nice folks, talked to some pawpaw growers, and tasted a little sampling of pawpaw recipes.

The annual North Carolina Pawpaw Festival is in nearby Winston-Salem. The event is sponsored and hosted by the NC Cooperative Extension Agency. There are lectures, displays, cooking demonstrations, plant sales, books, a long table of tasty pawpaw treats to sample plus pawpaw fruit for sale.

But… you have to get there as soon as they open. We arrived about 30 minutes after they opened and all the fruit was already sold out!

We’re growing our own pawpaw trees, and in this our seventh year, is the first year to see fruit, and there are just three.

Pawpaw in the wild near waterways. Image by GardensAll Facebook fan, Aaron Pangle

Paw Paw Festival – Winston-Salem, North Carolina

A collage of pawpaw aficionados converged to admire, celebrate, and learn about this smallish American fruit tree (Asiminia triloba), a staple food source dating back to the earliest inhabitants.

What do paw paws taste like?

Pawpaws taste like a cross between banana and mango with a dash of citrus. Yum!

Where to Buy Paw paws Fruit?

  • Farmer’s markets
  • Local fruit stands
  • Local or regional pawpaw festivals

If, like us, you’re wondering why you’ve never see pawpaws in the grocery stores, it’s likely because they have a short season, aren’t attractive fruits, and have a very short shelf life. For this reason, pawpaws are best as a part of your edible landscape plan rather than a sustainable fruit crop.

Pawpaws fruits don’t ship well or last very long, but you can scoop out the pulp and free it for when you need it.

You might you might find some at you local veggie stands or Farmer’s Markets, but if you definitely want some, you’ll need to either grow your own or hike around and find a patch near you.

Until you have your own pawpaw trees bearing fruit, you can connect with someone who grows it, attend pawpaw festivals, or buy the value-added products like purees, jams, chutneys and, yes, of course, beer!

We just learned from Shannon Billings in our Planting for Retirement group that paw paw wine is popular in Alabama!

Pawpaw fruit does freeze well, so peel it, slice it, bag it and freeze it. You can make pretty much anything you’d make from peaches.

Things to Make with Paw Paws:

  • Chutneys
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream
  • Jams
  • Pies
  • Purees
  • Beer
  • Wine

Those who are keen to know more about pawpaws can easily access information from online resources as well as from books like Andrew Moore’s PAWPAW book.

Pawpaw Chef and Foodwriter, Sara Bir displays her wares.
IMG_6157
Food tasting tables were one of the main attractions. So many dishes, breads, and deserts using pawpaws.
IMG_6158
Yes! Even delicious ice cream!
IMG_6168
A friendly Michael McConkey from Edible Landscaping was on hand to offer his container trees along with great advice on how to grow them on.

A great way to discover paw paws is to attend a pawpaw festival. At paw paw festivals you can usually buy the fruits, seeds, seedlings and saplings and talk to knowledgable growers.

Pawpaw festivals are often hosted by your local extension service. These typically include informative educational sessions as well as delectable food tastings of all kinds. You saw some examples of that in the photos above.

Our favorite was the pawpaw ice cream!

We’ve scouted a few to check out either this year or next. And of course, the very best way is to enjoy America’s largest native fruit down yonder, in the pawpaw patch (if you’re lucky enough to find one). 

Pawpaw Festivals Locations

We found a few Pawpaw Festival for you. If you know of some let us know and we’ll add it here.

If you know of a paw paw festival not listed here (or one that’s listed here but no longer happening), please let us know and we’ll be glad to add it to the list.

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The fruit is delicious, and reminiscent of a combination of banana and mango in flavor and texture.

Wishing you great gardens and happy harvests!

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