Growing PawPaw Trees
The pawpaw (Asimina triloba), also known as the Indiana banana or banango, is the largest fruit native to North America. A relic of a time when giant sloths roamed the pleistocene landscape, these trees have no remaining natural seed vectors, so their range has diminished to the Northeastern temperate forests of the continent. The fruits have never caught on commercially, as they are easily-bruised and highly perishable (with a shelf life of roughly three days). Thus, they are only really preserved in woodlands, private gardens, and in the USDA clonal germplasm repository at Kentucky State University.
The rarity of pawpaw trees is a shame, as they provide a unique—if perishable—harvest, and the trees themselves possess a number of unique qualities.
The fruit itself is high in protein compared to more common selections like apples or pears, and is also a good source of dietary magnesium and iron. Pawpaw tastes like something between a banana and a mango, and thus provides a cold-hardly substitute for these tropical alternatives that are laden with food miles.
These fruit trees naturally grow in clonal patches in a moist forest understory, and thus they are a shade-tolerant plant perfect for making corners with poor light exposure productive. Further, the bark can be used to make a homemade insecticide, and herbivores like deer avoid the tree entirely. For backyard growers the pawpaw is a logical selection, as it is both a native species and has no pests: only attracting a low density of zebra swallowtail butterflies, whose larvae use the leaves as fodder.
The blossoms are button-like and deep burgundy in color, but not that fresh-smelling: they are pollinated by carrion-lovers like beetles and flies, and smell accordingly. A common problem for backyard growers is a low fruit set and other pollination problems: the best way to get a full harvest on a pawpaw tree is to plant a different pawpaw cultivar beside it, as named cultivars are self-sterile and need pollination partners that blossom at the same time. Some nurseries propagate from varied seed selections that crops are varied enough for good fruit production.
The pawpaw is an under-appreciated native plant selection for North American gardeners, so consider planting a pair of pawpaw trees to contribute to the conservation of this remarkable fruit.
Greenwood Nursery provides Pawpaw trees for shipping spring through fall as available.