Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Five immature Paw-Paw fruits. (By: Mykola Swarnyk CC BY-SA 3.0)
Season: Fall - Late September to Mid October
Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly
Paw-Paw (Asimina triloba). This is one natural fruit I have never had luck finding in the wild, ripe and ready to eat. Be aware, this is one fruit that is known to cause an allergic reaction in a sizeable percentage of the population.
I've seen the name spelled: Paw-Paw, Pawpaw, PawPaw and Paw Paw.
Some people love the taste of this fruit, and some find it awful. Turns out, it is a highly variable fruit in taste. There seems to be a consensus that the further north it is found in its range, the less tasty it is. At one time, back in the 1800's, it was a common fruit available in markets when in season. The ripe fruit does not last long, and that doesn't work with the modern grocery store system. If you live in an area where they are common, you may be able to find them at farmer's markets.
Easy to eat. Cut length wise, scoop out the big seeds with a spoon and eat with the spoon. Because the taste can be really good, and the flesh is creamy, this fruit makes good smoothies. When you get a good ripe one, eat it. Don't wait around with it on the counter. Also be gentle handling it as they bruise easily. Because of the huge range of tastes this fruit can have (the way Apples are), it is hard to describe. Banana, Kiwi, Mango like are commonly used terms, so you can tell if you get a good tasting one, you are in for a treat.
Harvesting: Usually ripe later September to mid October. The fruit turns from green to yellow or light orange. The fruit goes from being hard to soft - like a peach or pear does when ripe. Don't keep for too long, as they go off fairly quickly. Best to eat within two days of picking, though they can last up to two weeks in a fridge if picked at the beginning of ripeness. Don't pick green and expect it to turn ripe, they have a habit of going from green and hard to rotten, bypassing the ripe stage. When the fruit is ripe, the inside flesh can be white, yellow or light orange depending on the variety.
Cooking: Can be used in recipes that call for Bananas. For instance, instead of making Banana bread, use a Banana bread recipe and substitute Paw Paw.
I have found the trees or, I guess a better description in most cases is large Shrub. The tree/shrub and leaves have a look that is easy to spot at a distance. The way the big leaves hang from the tree give a visual pattern sort of like a layered pattern of scales on a fish or shingles on a roof, but that doesn't quite cut it. Honestly, the way it always strikes me is; it's like the visual equivalent of a humming sound, but I'm not sure how much help that is. The tree is fairly common in Southwestern Ontario starting on the Southwest side of London and south to Lake Erie. They form clonal colonies by spreading from the roots, so usually there is a patch of them. I remember the first time I smelled one of the flowers - what a shock. You just expect flowers to smell nice - this one smells likes rotting meat, but the smell is weak, it's not overpowering when you come up to the flowering tree in spring. Makes sense when you realize it uses flies and beetles to pollinate the flowers instead of bees.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
You can if you live where it is warm enough - you need to be in a climate zone 5-8. For full details on growing Paw-Paw, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website entry on the Paw-Paw. This is not a simple one to grow.
- Plant Size: Normally a small tree or large Shrub around 6 meters (20 feet) high, though it has been known to reach double that in some circumstances
- Duration: Though a Perennial, individual Paw Paw trees don't live a long time, however since they form clonal colonies by spreading from the roots, they can occupy an area for long periods of time
- Leaf Shape: Obovate
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: Alternate
- Leaf Size: 25-30 cm (10 to 12 inches) long, 10-13 cm (4 to 5 inches ) wide
- Leaf Margin: Entire (smooth edged)
- Leaf Notes: The way the leaves hang from the tree create a regular visual pattern that is easy to recognize once you know it
- Flowers: 3-5 cm (1 to 2 inches). An inner set of three petals, and an outer set of three petals, often folded back somewhat, a greenish yellow center. The petal color is a purplish to reddish brown with a not too powerful foul odor. Flowers in spring with or before leaves.
- Fruit: Very large - 5-16 cm (2 to 6 inches) long and 3-7 cm (1 to 3 inches) wide, weighing from (20-500 g) (3/4 18 oz) berry that is yellow-green, with few to many brown seeds 15-25 mm (1/2 to 1 inch) diameter. First they are green, then ripen to a yellow green to brown in September or October. color of flesh of fruit ranges from the color of banana flesh to a peach flesh color. Ripe Paw Paw flesh has a ripe banana texture.
- Bark: Silvery grey, often spotty
- Habitat: Well drained areas with good sun, plenty of rainfall and rich deep soil that is slightly acidic to neutral
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures of the Paw-Paw on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Paw-Paw (Asimina triloba) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .
Paw-Paw tree. (By: Pufacz)
Fall colors. (By: Jebulon Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)
Flower. (By: Phyzome GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)
Bark. (By: Celerylady CC BY-SA 3.0)
Unripe fruit on tree. (By: Scott Bauer, USDA)
Pawpaw fruit cut open. (By: Manuel.conde)
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