Home ReWild The Tropical Fruit Tree Americans Forgot: The Pawpaw Tree

The Tropical Fruit Tree Americans Forgot: The Pawpaw Tree

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pawpaw flowerWhat if I told you that North America has an easy-to-grow native tropical fruit tree that you’ve never even heard of?

The Pawpaw is our largest native fruit, and it tastes something like banana and mango with hints of vanilla (yum!).

Nicknamed the “Appalachian Banana” or “poor man’s banana”, Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit in America and are native to 26 states. They mainly grow in the Eastern US, but have been hit hard by deforestation of that area. Over 90% of America’s old-growth forests have been cut down.

If you look, you’ll find loads of old-timey Appalachian recipes for the Pawpaw’s fruit. You can make custards, jams, bake with them, and even ferment them into beer and wine.

There’s even a Pawpaw Festival in Ohio, where you can taste all sorts of pawpaw recipes at their annual cook-off!

pawpaw treePawpaw trees are really useful beyond just providing fruit, too. Their inner bark can be twisted into strong ropes, and the leaves and outer bark can be made into a potent insecticide.

The Pawpaw tree has virtually no pest issues, and it’s fruit was enjoyed by the Native Americans before the European settlers came here. Thomas Jefferson even had Pawpaws planted at Monticello. 

They are smallish understory trees, usually happy to grow in the dappled shade of something bigger. They’re often found under pine trees in the wild.

You can grow pawpaw trees in your home landscape without too much trouble.

Ripe Pawpaws look like large, yellow-to-brown, misshapen pears, and are found in mid-Summer to early Fall.

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The trees are anywhere from 6 to 40 feet tall, and their leaves turn yellow in the fall. Pawpaw trees are pollinated by flies, and their unusual flowers are said to be rather pungent!

So why don’t we see these amazing fruits in the grocery store?

pawpaw1Because they just don’t fit in with the commercial aims of large-scale horticulture.

Pawpaws are best ripened on the tree. Like many soft tropical fruits, they cannot handle being transported.

So, most people in North America today have never even heard of this tropical treasure.

If you want to learn more about growing Pawpaws in your area, here’s more information about this unsung native fruit tree! 

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Laurette
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Laurette

Hi! Great article. Do you know where to buy the seeds to grow a paw paw tree? Or to buy seedlings? I’m in BC Canada. Where are you?

Eran
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Eran

You can buy 2-3 foot trees From Grimo Nut Nursery in Niagara On The Lake Ontario. Shipped to you in the Spring.

Sarah
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Sarah

Tropical? See I grew up in Northren IN. They grew wild and we enjoyed eating them and wild persimmons. Indiana, Ohio, Appalachions? Not at all tropical regions. Pawpaw is not a soley tropical plant.

Granny
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Granny

Agree. and I have cleared a 1/2 acre of land not knowing they had good fruit!!

Catherine Bleish
Admin

Oh nooo!

Rene`
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Rene`

The tree looks like a tropical, author wasn’t really saying that it was a tropical. Just being silly, wasn’t a serious statement.

Joel
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Joel

I questioned that as well, but the Appalachians are a subtropical climate in their mountains.

Bob
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Bob

The larva of the beautiful Zebra Swallowtail butterfly also eats Pawpaw.

Pattie
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There are a lot in fence rows in Central KY , especially noticed along Cumberland Pkwy & I-65.

ANTHONY PULICE JR
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ANTHONY PULICE JR

As young kids, my brother and I used to go into the trees up from our home to find and enjoy PawPaws. They tasted like Bananas. We live in West Virginia…

ANTHONY PULICE JR
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ANTHONY PULICE JR

My brother and I live in West Virginia and we used to go into the woods to the PawPaw tree to pick and eat them They taste like Bananas…

John j sizemore
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John j sizemore

Im in ok where do you get your seeds from. Ive never heared of the Pawpaw fruit before. But welling to try something new

Renee Davis
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Renee Davis
Renee Davis
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Renee Davis
Kersitn
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Kersitn

Great article – does anyone have a recipe how to make an ointment? I assume it’s from the fruit or an extract good for damaged skin? Like the famous one but home made with natural ingredients 😉

Mike Dd
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Mike Dd

We ate these as kids in SW Virginia (Appalachia Mtns near VA,KY,WV).
They can be found by following the smell (they smell like bananas!)
Bring a spoon 🙂

Tom
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Tom

I grew up eating pawpaws in the mountains of West Virginia. They were my grandmother’s favorite fruit. Now we have two nice pawpaw trees in our yard in central Kentucky. They bear LOTS of nice sized fruit every year.

Deb Duvall
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Deb Duvall

I started mine from seeds I received 7 years ago from fruit my brother gave me. He raises them in PA and I live in Central NY. They are fruiting for the first time. I’m looking forward to eating my first crop and will start a new batch from the seeds.

Dede
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Dede

The picture you showed was the mango fruit not pawpaw fruit.

mike bunch
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mike bunch

no, that is a pawpaw . they look very similar to a mango.

J
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J

I grew up in Eastern Kentucky. We had this tree in our back yard. I ate them every summer growing up!

mike bunch
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mike bunch

i live in corbin,ky… have not seen a pawpaw tree since i was very young. … early 70’s , thinking about planting a few this summer .

Wild Things Preserve
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Wild Things Preserve

This article forgot to mention that the Paw Paw leaves are the only food to the caterpillar of the native swallow tail butterfly, which is highly endangered. All the more reason to plant as many as possible! 🦋

Theresa
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Theresa

Will they grow in Texas?

Bob Wahler
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Bob Wahler

I find it curious that you would invoke some political agenda about deforestation into a SENTENCE about the Appalachians; which have NOT been “deforested” in any significant degree.

Just a casual observation.

Catherine Bleish
Admin

Thanks for your input.

Holly Parker
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Holly Parker

Actually, the entire Appalachian region has been clear cut in the past, disrupting tree distribution and the entire ecosystem. Only a few percent of old growth forests remain. Deforestation is not a political agenda. Also, paw paw’s are the most cold tolerant species of the tropical breadfruit family. Lucky us!

Roy
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Roy

Will they grow in Gulf Coast of Alabama? Any sellers or grower in South Alabama

Bob Bergeron
Guest

you can’t just plant seeds and expect the tree to grow. They have to be about 8 years old to produce, or is it 8 feet tall. They need to be “straitfied”
https://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+stratify+pawpaw+seeds&rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS818US818&oq=how+to+stratify+pawpaw+seeds&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.18703j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 .
I have 12 seeds in the refrigerator now and will plant them in August here in south Louisianan

Monsoon boots
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Monsoon boots http://www.valeantino.com

Georgia Miller
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Georgia Miller

I bought saplings from a nursery that sells on Ebay. The price was very reasonable, and the seedlings were about 18-24″ tall. Granted, the small size may mean waiting longer, but it was the least expensive way to add them to our landscaping. Since I bought a lot that was a bit larger than what I really needed, I was also able to gift a couple to an acquaintance to plant on her five acre plot. Grafted trees may be a better bet for fruit production, since seedlings can be unpredictable for flavor, size, and production, but they are a… Read more »