Pawpaw (Asimina trilobal) is the largest edible tree fruit native to the United States. Pawpaws are understory trees or thicket-shrubs that grow in deep, rich fertile soils near river-bottoms.
They are found in 25 states from Florida to southern Canada to Nebraska. Pawpaws are hardy in Zones 5-8. Pawpaws grow will in South Carolina except the coast because of the tree’s susceptibility to humidity and the need for chill days. They are slow growing trees that will need several years to grow before it will produce a fruit.
Many people plant pawpaws as a residential ‘edible’ in their landscape due to their lush, tropical appearance, attractive growth form, size, fall color, and delicious fruit. Pawpaws are great in butterfly gardens because they will attract the zebra swallowtail who exclusively use the pawpaw as a larval host.
Pawpaws are a small, deciduous tree that can grow 15 to 30 feet in height.
In the understory, trees will clump together in thickets.
This can be a result from root suckering or seedlings developing from fruits that dropped from the original tree. In sunny locations, trees will have a pyramidal habitat, straight trunk and long, lush, dark green leaves that will turn gold and brown in the fall. Trees will need full sun for adequate fruit production, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic (pH 5.5-7). Seedlings will need adequate water in the first year of establishment.
Pawpaw flowers emerge before the leaves in mid spring and occur on the previous year’s wood. Flowers are up to 2 inches in diameter and are self-incompatible and require cross-pollination. Pollination can occur from beetles. Fruit set in the wild is usually low, but under cultivation the fruit set can be tremendous.
The pawpaw fruit exceeds apple, peach and grape in most vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and food energy value. Pawpaws are best eaten fresh when fully ripe and can be pureed easily or frozen. Pawpaws can be substituted for bananas in most recipes. The fruit has a taste similar to a creamy mixture of banana, mango, and pineapple. Fruits can be stored at room temperature from 3 to 5 days, while refrigeration can last up to 3 weeks. Fresh fruits are so fragile that it is nearly impossible to ship fresh.
Trees can be planted in the fall or spring. Trees less than 1 1/2 feet tall should be shaded the first year because the young shoots are extremely sensitive to sunlight.
Weed control is necessary, especially the first year during establishment. Fertilizer application can be a broadcast granular fertilizer in the spring. Suckers will need to be removed for a single stem tree or allow them to grow to create a hedge or screen.
Recommended cultivars for South Carolina include: Allegheny™, Davis, Mango, NC-1, Overleese, PA Golden, Potomac™, Shenandoah™, Sunflower, Susquehanna™, Taytwo, Wabash™, and Wells.
Transplanting trees from the wild is usually unsuccessful because the large tap root is easily damaged and often have few root hairs. Transplant shock is usually severe resulting in death of the of the tree. Transplanting of seedlings can be successful when done in the spring during budbreak. Containerized seedlings will transplant with a high success rate when planted properly.
Pawpaws have few pests due to natural compounds in the leaf, bark, and twig tissues. Japanese beetles can occasionally damage the leaves.
A disease known as flyspeck has been reported on pawpaw, however, the fungus only grows superficially on the surface of the fruit and does not prevent it from being edible. Birds and mammals will eat the fruits, but deer do not feed on the leaves, twigs, or fruit.
For more information on pawpaw, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at hgic.clemson.edu.
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