Pawpaws are a native fruit that I’ve seen only a few times but have never tasted. I’m betting many readers aren’t familiar with this tree and its fruit. Indeed, I only know one person who has planted one in their yard in Lufkin.
Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) are a native, fruit-bearing tree located in the eastern United States from as far south as Florida and growing up on into Canada. The fruit resembles a mango in size and shape but has several peculiarities.
The fruit was written about by one the earliest explorers, Hernando DeSoto, in 1541 as he was exploring what would later become the southern United States. He found it being cultivated by native Americans. Our first president, George Washington, enjoyed eating chilled pawpaws for dessert. Lewis and Clark consumed the locally available fruit on their travel west. And another early American statesman, Thomas Jefferson, grew it at his estate, Monticello.
Pawpaws can be fickle to get established, but once established are an easy to care for tree. Reaching a mature height of 30-40 feet, with trunks that only get about a foot in diameter, they have few pests and even serve as a host plant for the native zebra swallowtail butterfly. Additionally, the tree is noted for its striking fall ‘rust yellow’ color.
If found in the wild, you’ll likely see them growing in a small grove. If you want to have them in your back-yard, you’ll need slightly acidic soil that is rich and well drained. And if you want fruit, you’ll need to plant two different cultivars.
What one writer called “America’s forgotten fruit”, its flavor is considered a mix between a mango, pineapple and a banana. E. Lewis Sturtevant wrote in his book, “Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World” that pawpaws tasted like “a natural custard, too luscious for the relish of most people.”
You likely won’t see it in any grocery stores because it has such a short shelf life once picked – no more than 3 days if not refrigerated and a maximum of a week if you do refrigerate it!
In addition to the short shelf life the fact that some folks will have an allergic reaction to the fruits skin, maybe we can understand why it’s not as popular as some other fruits.
However, if you are looking for the unique, native, edible, and beneficial to wildlife tree, consider the pawpaw. You’ll have a one of a kind dessert that is also enjoyed by other mammals to include raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and more!
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.