Common Pawpaw Tree:
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the common pawpaw and how to grow a pawpaw. We will discuss its natural habitat, its ideal growing conditions, how to plant it, and how to harvest it.
Keep reading to learn more about the elusive Pawpaw.
Pawpaw Tree Background
The pawpaw (Asimina trilobais) the only member of the Annonaceae family to have a native habitat outside of the tropics. Pawpaw is one of the largest trees in North America to bear edible fruit. Because of it’s uniqueness, the pawpaw has recently been receiving increased attention and is gaining popularity.
In appearance, the pawpaw is a tiny tree. It is an understory tree meaning that it isn’t tall enough to be a canopy tree, but is still larger than shrubs. It has thin, smooth, pale gray bark with lush, large foliage.
The leaves of the pawpaw are large and obovate and they grow in an alternating pattern. They are large in proportion to the tree and they slightly resemble buckeye leaves.
In late winter and early spring, the tree will begin to show velvety brown buds. If these buds are damaged by an early frost, they may not fruit. When in bloom, the pawpaw has dark maroon and purple nodding flowers.
After blooming, the pawpaw tree will begin to grow their fruits. They have small, green, kidney-shaped fruits which will gradually turn yellow and spotted when ripening.
Pawpaw fruit is soft and has a tropical fragrance and flavor. It can be hard to describe its taste, because of how unique its flavor is, but some say it tastes like a banana and mango.
The pawpaw is native to the eastern United States. It can be found as south as Texas and as north as New England. It is most common in the middle areas of the eastern United States from zones five to nine.
The pawpaw tree’s native habitat is in deciduous woodlands, in ravines, or flood plane slopes. The pawpaw tree prefers above average moisture. It naturally grows in rich, fertile, most, and well-drained soil.
The pawpaw prefers full sun. It can tolerate some shade, but may develop scraggly growth as a result. It can be planted in open spaces or at the edge of woodlands.
Height and Spread
The pawpaw tree grows from around 10 to 30 feet tall in ideal conditions. However, its average height is around 15 to 20 feet. This tree has a spread that will match its height.
This tree blooms in spring from April to May. The flowers are a dark burgundy color and have a nodding habit, meaning that they face downward. After the tree flowers, it will begin to develop fruit.
Fruit will begin to appear shortly after flowering and the fruit will begin ripen from July to September depending on your climate. Fruit can be harvested when it's pale yellow in color.
Fun Fact: George Washington’s favorite dessert was the pawpaw fruit. He would have it chilled and then eat it with a spoon after dinner. Our first president would agree, nothing tastes quite like a pawpaw.
Why Grow a Pawpaw Tree?
Why grow pawpaw? For starters its flavor is magical and inexplicable.
It is rare to be able to grow a tropical-tasting fruit as far north as zone five. Unlike tropical fruits, pawpaw doesn’t have to be sprayed with preservatives, shipped, and imported. You can simply pick it and eat it.
This luxury, and it is a luxury, is enjoyed by few because many people have no idea what a pawpaw is! While has been gaining in popularity, it is still unknown by the majority of people.
The pawpaw is not available commercially, either. Some farmers markets or small stores may sell them, but this is rare. The only way to get pawpaw fruit is by foraging, getting them from friends/family, or by growing them yourself.
By simply growing a tree, you will enjoy the fruits of your labor each summer. Especially when those fruits are luxurious and rare pawpaw fruits!
For the Butterflies
Another great benefit to growing pawpaw trees is their positive impact on the ecosystem. The pawpaw tree is essential for the zebra swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus).
This tree is its host plant, meaning that the zebra swallowtail butterfly uses the pawpaw to lay its eggs. The caterpillars then feed off of the tree and progress through their final development stages before turning into butterflies.
How to Grow a Pawpaw Tree
Planting a pawpaw tree is much like planting other trees. However, pawpaw trees need rich, organic soil and prefer above average moisture. They can tolerate some shade, but may not fruit as much as if they were in full sun.
Here is a step-by-step guide on growing the pawpaw tree:
Step-by-Step Planting Guide
- Buy 2 Pawpaw trees, one female and one male, this ensures that pollination will occur and you can have pawpaw fruit
- Scout the ideal location in your outdoor space, (full sun and rich, organic soil) this can be in your yard or at the edge of woodlands
- Plant in spring or fall, summer planting may cause the tree stress. If you have to plant in summer, plan on a cloudy day or in the evening
- Dig the soil to create a hole that's the depth of the root ball
- Avoid fertilizing the hole, if you do, the roots will not be encouraged to expand and lengthen
- Plant the tree with the main stem (trunk) fully above the soil level so that you can see the root flare. Planting the trunk may cause rot and disease
- Do not mulch directly around the tree, but at about 2-3 feet away from the main stem
- Water the pawpaw thoroughly after planting and then water weekly or as needed
- Stake the tree if you live in a windy area or if tree needs extra support (during the first year only)
- Prune any broken or crossing branches to limit disease potential
- Fertilize yearly with 10-10-10 fertilizer or mulch with compost in the fall
How to Harvest Pawpaw Fruit
As a word of caution, pawpaw fruits should not be eaten when green. Green fruits are not yet ripe, similar to bananas. If you eat green pawpaw fruit, you may experience gastrointestinal upset.
Harvest pawpaw fruits when they are yellow and have some brown spots. You may have some animal competitors (squirrel and raccoon). If that is the case, you can harvest slightly before the fruits are ripe, then ripen them indoors in a basket or on a counter.
To eat, slice the pawpaw fruit down the middle. Remove the large bean shaped seeds and save those to be planted or give them to a friend. Peel away the skin and throw it out or compost in.
You can eat the center fruit or use it in cooking, baking, or brewing.
Ways to Use Pawpaw Fruit
Pawpaws can be eaten plain or be used in cooking. You can use them similarly to how bananas can be used. Pawpaw makes for delicious treats like:
- Ice creams
- And to make alcohol
Pawpaw fruit can always be eaten by itself! That way, you can enjoy its flavor and all of the nuances that come with it.
Where to Buy a Pawpaw Tree (or two, or three)
Pawpaw fruit may be hard to come by in nature, so it can be worth buying a tree or two for yourself. Here at Wholesale Nursery Co., we have Pawpaw bare root trees for sale:
Zones: 5 to 9
Sun exposure: Full sun, can tolerate some shade
Mature height: up to 25 or 30 feet
Water: Average to moist
Best for front of pollinators, wildlife habitat, and fruiting.
If you have any more questions about the Pawpaw tree, please reach out. We are available to answer any questions you have about the Pawpaw or any of our other plants!