All About Pawpaws

What are pawpaws? Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) are shade-loving understory trees that grow the largest edible fruit native to North America. Take a look.

Guest article by Patti Moreno

What are pawpaws?

Also known as the American Custard Apple, or Indiana Banana, pawpaws were widely eaten and enjoyed by Native Americans back in the day. Currently, pawpaw trees can be found growing wild in the U.S. as a shade-loving, understory tree.

Pawpaws are actually very large berries, sometimes growing longer than 6 inches. They turn from green to yellow (or brown) when ripe. The fruit has a strong tropical flavor — similar to bananas, pineapples, or mangoes.

Ripe pawpaw fruits have a very short shelf life: about 3-5 days. This has made it impossible for pawpaws to be sold in most grocery stores, since they can’t be transported to market quickly enough. Growing pawpaws in your backyard is the best way for you to enjoy this fruit.

Young pawpaw trees can be sensitive to full sunlight and require filtered sun for the first year or two. This is because, in nature, pawpaw trees grow as "understory trees", in the shade of other much larger trees. Once established, pawpaw trees produce the most fruit when grown in full sun. Pawpaws fruit in shade too, but they may produce less fruit than trees grown in full sun. The solution here is to build a temporary shade cloth structure over young trees and remove it once they are older and established (you can tell once they start blooming that they're ready to fruit!) so that they can take advantage of the full sun exposure.

leafy pawpaw tree

Pawpaw trees are cold-hardy fruit trees, meaning they grow well in colder climates. This applies to the Asimina triloba pawpaw, or common pawpaw, which grows from North Florida all the way to Canada.

For proper pollination plant at least two different grafted varieties of pawpaws (two or more grafted trees cannot cross-pollinate if they are the same variety). Alternately, you can plant two or more seedling pawpaw trees, which will be able to cross-pollinate one another. Pawpaw trees rely on insects to cross-pollinate the flowers, so it is important that your landscape is friendly to pollen-moving insects.

Pawpaw fruit forms in clusters, from 2 to 9 fruits per cluster. Pawpaws are low maintenance and, because they are native to the US, there are very few issues with garden pests making pawpaw trees great to plant if you practice organic gardening.

Pawpaw fruit

Grafted pawpaw trees purchased from Stark Bro’s start fruiting in about 3-5 years!

Begin harvesting pawpaws in mid August through the first frost (generally early- to mid-October). Pawpaws are great to eat fresh off the tree, but they have a lot of uses in recipes as well! Because of their banana-like taste and texture, pawpaws make a good banana substitute for recipes like banana bread. They are healthy, too, with more protein, vitamin C, iron, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, cooper, and manganese than apples, oranges, or bananas.

Pawpaw fruit is nutritious, making it perfect fruit for healthy, delicious smoothies! Smoothies are quick, easy, and fun to make, as you can see in my video below. You’ll need to separate the skin and the seeds from the custardy flesh. The skin is edible, but doesn’t taste good and the seeds should not be eaten. Have fun and mix them with all sorts of other fruit!

Watch my video for how to make pawpaw smoothies:

— Enjoying the fruits of my labor, Patti Moreno, The Garden Girl

Grow Your Own Pawpaw Trees