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Nature The Pawpaw Patch

Photo Story: The Pawpaw Patch

Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) like it moist. The small trees, 9 to 30 feet tall, grow along streams, in bottoms, and at the base of bluffs. You will usually find several of them together because they put up shoots that grow into more pawpaw trees close by. They also grow easily from their big black seeds. You can recognize pawpaws by their green droopy leaves which are 6 to 10 inches long and stay green after other trees have changed color. 

Pawpaws are members of the Custard Apple plant family of tropical fruits. Like custard apples, they have soft custard-like flesh with lots of seeds in it. Pawpaws taste tropical. At its best pawpaw tastes like mango, but its flesh is more like ripe banana.

They flower from March to May, with their dark maroon flowers. These dark flowers don't seem to attract many pollinators, since most pawpaws don't set fruit. If you have a bunch of pawpaw trees, you might try hand-pollinating them so that they will set more fruit. When a flower does set fruit, it has quintuplets --- five at once! Over the summer, one or more of these usually drop off, usually leaving just one or two to pick in late August or September. 

They can be hard to spot, hidden by leaves. They can be up to 6 inches long and 3 inches thick and weigh a pound. You have to let them ripen in order to taste them at their best or else they taste bland. The trick is to pick them before the raccoons or opossums do. Or before a wind storm sends them to the ground. It's best to pick them just as they start to soften, and put them in the refrigerator for two or three weeks to let them ripen there.

You'll probably want to eat your pawpaw outside or someplace where you can make a mess, spit out the seeds, and then wash off. If you try to cut one open with a knife, you'll hit the black seeds, like big lima beans. Best to skin it and then go for it!

April 10:
Fuzzy pawpaw flower buds.

April 20:
Up close, pawpaw flowers are pretty.

May 27:
One flower sets five pawpaw fruits.

May 31:
One fruit has dropped off, there are four left.

July 4:
Now there are only three fruits left. 
They're getting bigger.

September 6:
Two months later and only two left. 
Time to pick them before the 'coons do!

September 10:
Eating a pawpaw: This five-inch fruit is cut in two, to show flesh and seeds.
All gone but the skin and the seeds! A pawpaw seed is like a big black hard lima bean. Pawpaw trees grow easily from seed.

Sources: Julian A.Steyermark, Flora of Missouri,1981, The Iowa State University Press, p.671. 
Patrick Byers, Ozark Fruit Review, "Pawpaws," 10/4/00, Ozark County Times.