Pawpaw: North America’s Largest Native Fruit

Pawpaw fruit beginning to ripen on the tree, ready for harvest.

What is a Pawpaw Fruit?

When we think fall harvesting, we often think of apples and pumpkins, though there is also another gem growing back into the spotlight - Pawpaw! You may be wondering what a pawpaw is or what a peculiar word for a fruit! Pawpaws are the tropical-looking fruits that are actually indigenous to North America, hardy to these colder climates—resembling papaya with a sweet banana custard taste. They may not have found their way to mainstream markets, but they certainly do have a legacy all of their own.

Native Americans had a special connection to these large native fruits, especially the Shawnee tribes, who dedicated an entire month to celebrating pawpaws, which they called “asimi”. Legend has it that Lewis and Clark ate pawpaws during their adventures and were also grown by George Washington. A symbol of Appalachia as many folk songs have been sung over the years to pay tribute to this wild fruit, feeding explorers, backpackers, and wildlife for centuries. Now with a wide variety to choose from, you can continue the delicious memories these trees hold right in your own backyard!

The Many Pawpaw Varieties: Find the Cultivars Best Suited For You

Whether you’re choosing to grow Pawpaw to eat raw, cook with, or just add to your edible landscape, there are many different varieties to choose from when deciding what is best for your garden. Some have fewer seeds, some ripen earlier than others, and some are better for baking. Here we will break down which Pawpaw Trees are best suited for your backyard orchard!

  • Allegheny® Pawpaw: This variety has a very rich, sweet flavor with a hint of citrus. The fruit is on the smaller size, but the taste is so lovely it's perfect for fresh eating right off the tree! 

  • Potomac® Pawpaw: Producing larger fruit, typically 12 ounces, with a more firm texture and fewer seeds. With a thicker skin and sweet taste, this variety is perfect for baking and canning. 

  • Wells Pawpaw: A unique variety with more of a soft green fruit instead of the traditional yellow with orange flesh with excellent flavor. Harvesting medium to large-sized fruit later in the season in mid-September. Producing a large quantity of fruit, this variety is excellent for sharing your harvest with friends and family! 

  • Wabash® Pawpaw: Harvesting large fruit, averaging 10 ounces, with fewer seeds. This is a great variety for fresh eating as it has rich flavor with a creamy smooth texture, ready to just cut open and grab a spoon! 

  • Sunflower Pawpaw: A partially self-fertile variety with a very reliable harvest when planted with another pawpaw tree, Sunflower bears medium-sized fruit with few seeds. Ripening in mid-September with a more firm texture, this variety is excellent for baking and canning as it produces a large harvest. 

  • Rappahannock® Pawpaw: Known as one of the most aesthetically pleasing of the pawpaw trees, with symmetrical fruits often grown in clusters. The medium-sized fruit, typically 8-10 ounces, has fewer seeds than most pawpaw's and a more light, refreshing custard taste to them - not as rich and flavorful but sweetened up once baked. 

  • Prolific Pawpaw: A late harvest ripening in October, with a large sweet and rich-tasting fruit. Fitting to the name, Prolific is perfect for both fresh eating and baking!

  • Pennsylvania Gold Pawpaw: Early ripening fruit harvesting in late August, with a reliable golden harvest of medium-sized fruit, and the traditional banana custard flavor. A wonderful variety for fresh eating and baking, as well as a brighter yellow fall foliage color in the landscape. 

  • NC-1 Pawpaw: Ripening in mid-September, this variety has the least amount of seeds, thin skin, and fresh, delicious flavor! Best for fresh eating right off the tree, as they are easy to cut into and eat around the seeds. 

  • Mango Pawpaw: One of the sweetest varieties, and fitting to its name with a spin on the traditional banana custard flavor, adding a hint of tropical mango flavor. A large, vigorous grower with an early harvest in late August. 

  • Common Pawpaw: A hardy selection with medium-sized fruit, and traditional banana-custard flavor. A common wild grower throughout North America. 

  • Audubon Native Pawpaw: Bower & Branch exclusive partnership with the National Audubon Society for Native trees grown neonicotinoid free; this variety is the native variety to North America and benefitting birds, pollinators, and wildlife. Harvesting in mid-September with medium-sized fruit, with that delicious banana-custard flavor. 

  • USDA Organic Pawpaw: Bower & Branch exclusive certified USDA Organic Pawpaw tree, grow your own farmers market of organic pawpaw fruits for a mid-season harvest and delicious custard taste! Great for fresh eating!

  • Susquehanna Pawpaw: This selection bears the largest-sized fruit, sometimes weighing over a pound, with a very low amount of seeds. Outstanding in flavor and texture, it is among the most popular varieties—a hardy selection, wonderful for both fresh eating and canning.
Shop All Pawpaw Trees

 

From Florida up to Michigan and even as far west as Nebraska, these lush tropical fruit trees thrive! We may have just introduced you to all the Bower & Branch exclusive Pawpaw varieties, but there is even one more way to narrow down which selections to choose.

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Peterson’s Pawpaw’s: The Pawpaw Pioneer

In 1975, Neal Peterson was studying for his master's degree in plant genetics at West Virginia University. It was there that he tasted his first Pawpaw fruit. Astonished at the flavor and wondering why he had never tasted one before, Neal Peterson became enthralled with Pawpaw trees and considered their fruit a delicacy. Without realizing it yet, it was at that moment when Pawpaw would become the saga of his life. From that point, Neal Peterson dedicated his life to popularizing and breeding the fruit trees, and today is revered as the top horticulturist for Asimina triloba. Over many decades of growing, trial and tribulation, Neal Peterson bred seven varieties of Pawpaw trees. These Peterson Pawpaw selections are known to be more reliable, tastier, and guaranteed superior quality. Here at Bower & Branch, we offer 4 out of the 7:

These selections are part of what is known as the "Peterson Pawpaw's" and are highly regarded around North America in Pawpaw festivals and named after area's they are more popularly found and grown.

How To Grow and Cultivate Your Own Pawpaw Fruit Trees

Feeling inspired to revive this celebrated fruit into your landscape? These dynamic and undeniably delicious fruits are relatively easy to grow, but do require a little patience and knowledge for proper care to prepare them for a lush, healthy life and harvest! Here are a few important growing tips:

  • Sun and Shade: Pawpaw trees are understory trees, flourishing in partial shade, especially when they are young. Young trees are sensitive to bright, direct sun that can scorch the leaves. It is best to plant Pawpaw trees in an area with full-sun that has afternoon protection from the heat of the day, whether that is a building, a fence, or tall shrubbery. Many will plant their Pawpaw trees in an area of full-sun, and set up shade panels over the trees for the first few years until they are well established.

  • Spacing: To produce fruit, Pawpaw trees need another Pawpaw tree to pollinate with. It is best to plant your two trees, or multiple trees 10-15 feet apart. This is for reliable pollination for a healthy yearly harvest.

  • Soil Conditions: Pawpaw trees prefer rich, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic to a neutral pH level (between 5.5 to 7.0). Avoid allowing the soil to become excessively dry; consistent moist soil is ideal. In the wild, they are often found with a natural mulching of decomposing fallen leaves. So they love organic matter and appreciate a light layer of mulching. If you have poor soil quality, add Elements Starter Plant Food as a healthy organic boost and Elements Compost Planting Mix as a soft layer of organic mulch when planting.

  • Watering: Newly planted trees will need to be watered 2-3 times a week for the first few months. Watering, and watering well is imperative to your tree's success! Place your hose on a slow drip for 2-4 hours each day for the first two weeks after planting. Once your tree becomes well established, you can lessen this to a slow drip for 2 hours every three days, then move to place your hose on a slow drip for 2 hours once a week. It is important to ensure your soil is draining well; you don't want the tree to become waterlogged. Pawpaws are a bit like Goldilocks; they like their soil not to be too wet and not too dry!

Fall Foraging and Harvesting Pawpaw Fruit

There is something magical about planting and nurturing your own food, and early Fall is the ultimate time of year for getting the most out of your backyard! With a wide range of seasonal favorites, Pawpaw will quickly become the new family tradition of saying, “Everybody grab a spoon!” Walk out to the backyard, cut open your first ripened Pawpaw of the season, and all have a taste of that creamy, delicious custard!

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When do Pawpaw start Producing Fruit?

Pawpaw trees will begin producing a large harvest of fruit 3 to 5 years after they have been planted. Your trees will let you know as they start blooming burgundy-velvet flowers in spring, signifying they are mature enough to produce fruit!

How to know when a Pawpaw is Ripe:

Pawpaw picking seasons vary depending on the cultivar and your location. They ripen earlier in warmer climates, and later in fall the farther north you go. They generally begin to ripen in mid-August to mid-October, and harvest can last for a few weeks! It can be a workout as some varieties can have heavy fruit weighing up to one pound! You can skip arm day at the gym when it's Pawpaw season!

Even though it's exciting to see the fruit form, you don't want to rush picking seasons. It is best to leave the fruit on the tree until it softens; that's when they're sweetest and full of flavor! Almost like a peach or a pear, you want to be able to gently squeeze the fruit and feel a little bounce back - when it's slightly soft, that's when you know it's good for eatin'!

How do you eat Pawpaw Fruit?

Enjoying the fruits of your labor is the best part about growing your own food! Here are a few tips on fresh eating:

  • Give your fruit a gentle wash
  • Cut the fruit in half, longways - you may feel the seeds as your work your knife around the fruit to cut it open. 
  • Grab a spoon, scoop out the soft pulp and enjoy! Avoid the seeds, or spit them out, and the skin is often bitter so that they can be composted.

*Tips for a large harvest: Pawpaw trees can give you a bountiful harvest, sometimes with more than you can eat! Sharing with friends and family is always a fun way to celebrate the season. You can also freeze the fruit by cutting them in half, separating the seeds, and spooning the pulp into a freezer bag or freezer-safe container!

Pawpaw Fruit Tree FAQ’S

Are Two Pawpaw Trees Required to Produce Fruit?

Pawpaw trees need another pawpaw tree planted near them in order to fruit. It must be a pawpaw tree that is genetically different, meaning you can not plant two of the same pawpaw trees. A unique trait of Pawpaw is that Pawpaw’s bloom both male and female flowers - the male flowers are deep red, and the female flowers are a pale green. Often farmers will assist in the pollination process, using a small paint brush to collect pollen from the male flowers and quickly paint that pollen onto the female flowers. This will increase your harvest for a more reliable fall season of fruit!

How tall do Pawpaw Trees get?

Pawpaw is naturally found as an understory tree in the wild; their mature size is 15-20 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide. In very ideal conditions, they can grow up to 30 feet tall, though it is not common that they reach those heights. Their petite size makes it easier to go Pawpaw picking come fall!

What is pawpaw fruit used for?

Pawpaw fruit transcends being a culinary delight; they also have many health benefits. They are high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper, niacin, and potassium. Eating the fruit can help rebuild immune systems and metabolize foods. The flavor resembles a mild vanilla-banana custard and is often used in baked goods, puddings, ice cream, jams, and smoothies. In the last few years, they have grown in popularity with microbreweries creating Pawpaw beer.

 

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Pawpaw Trees Through the Seasons

Pawpaw trees do more than just cultivate mouthwatering fruits; they bring seasons of elegant beauty to your garden and to their natural woodland settings alike! In spring, before the branches leaf out, dark burgundy flowers unfurl, giving a touch of vibrant color while the rest of your landscape is still just waking up to spring.

This fascinating native tree boasts a canopy of lush tropical bright-green leaves like an enchanting fountain of green through the seasons. The textured foliage turns a brilliant yellow in fall, which also signifies the fruit is ready for harvest! Just as the leaves are about to drop when winter arrives, they display a flash of orange, as if to let you know that winter is coming.

One of the tastiest seasons rewarding hikers, wildlife, and now home orchards is the Pawpaw harvest in fall! Give the tree a little shake, and you’ll have yourself a picnic of ripe fallen fruits, ready to be eaten! Just bring a spoon and a picnic blanket, and you’ve got an afternoon snack!

Grow Your Own Unique Tropical Fruit

Also known as “Appalachian Banana,” “Quaker Delight,” and “Poor Man’s Banana,” this delicious custard fruit with its folksy name has been beloved for centuries. It may not be as ubiquitous as an apple, but that is what makes it even more special! Harking back to gentler times, when girls in homemade dresses and straw-hatted boys rode their bikes way down yonder to the pawpaw patch to fetch an afternoon snack, and bring some home for grandma’s baking! These trees hold such a pure legacy, and now you can keep the tradition and songs alive with your own Pawpaw Patch, ready to be filled with family traditions, sharing of harvests, and delicious baked goods for generations to come!


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