In the 1500s the large fruits of Pawpaw trees fed Hernando DeSoto’s conquistadors during their expedition in the Mississippi Valley. A favorite food of American Indians at the time, early settlers used the fruit to make jelly. The trees’ inner bark was used to make cloth and to string up fish.
Pawpaw trees have a wide native range from New York and Ontario to Iowa and Texas. The trees mature at 10 to 20 feet tall and wide with a round, upright pyramid form that requires no shaping.
Pawpaws are cold hardy to zone 5 so they are quite happy in our zone 7 weather. The pink flowers in the spring are very pretty and prolific. After pollination, yellow fruits form to ripen later in the summer and fall. The fruit is said to taste like bananas though ours is always eaten by wildlife long before we can harvest any.
The leaves are large, light green ovals that turn lime green and then pale yellow in the fall, adding to November color in the garden.
Our first tree came from Stringer Nursery in Tulsa when they sold them for $10 apiece because volunteer trees were dug out of the owner’s back yard. In order to have more fruit we purchased a second variety from the Kentucky State University breeding program a few years ago (http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu).
There are over 45 Pawpaw or Asimina triloba cultivars. Convis has 1-pound fruit, Davis has half-pound fruit, Overleese is a heavy producing variety, Sunflower is said to be self-fertile and Wells has fruit with green skin and orange flesh.
According to the University of Kentucky Horticulture Dept. more Pawpaw is being planted because of the beauty, the fruit and because the trees produce an organic insecticide as well as a potential cancer therapy.
Our first tree was planted to provide habitat for Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. If you can get fruit away from wildlife, they have vitamins A and C, protein, potassium, magnesium and unsaturated fats.