Pawpaw: The Midwest Banana?
Although the pawpaw is native to the eastern
and central United States, it is a surprisingly well-kept secret. Those
who do know this fruit are not likely to forget its delightful aroma and
flavor. The pawpaw has been called the Hoosier Banana, but probably only
by Hoosiers themselves. The same plant is also known as the Michigan Banana,
Kentucky Banana and other regional favorites. Botanically, the plant is
known as Asimina triloba. The tree can be found growing in low
woods in much of the Midwest, with the heart of its territory in the Ohio
Historically, Native Americans used strands
of the inner bark of pawpaws for making fabric and netting. A medicinal
extract also was harvested from the bark. More recent studies have looked
at both anti-cancer and pesticide properties of pawpaw extracts.
You may have guessed by now that the fruit
does have a flavor somewhat like a banana, although others have described
the taste as similar to mango. The fruits are greenish-yellow berries,
which turn brownish-black when fully ripe. Each fruit is about 2-5 inches
long and can weigh up to 8 ounces. The berries are borne in clusters that
can have as many as seven fruits.
Some backyard growers complain of poor fruit
set on their pawpaws. There is still some controversy over which insects
are the primary pollinators. Some believe honeybees to be the workers.
Others declare that carrion flies are responsible, while still others
insist that it is a species of beetle. The flowers do have a very rank
odor, so flies and beetles are the more likely bets.
Additionally, self-pollination does not occur
within a flower so other flowers must be nearby to provide a pollen source.
Planting several trees should help provide sufficient flowers. Where possible,
hand pollination, using a small artist's brush to carry the pollen from
one flower to another, may be of some help.
Harvest pawpaw when the fruit yields slightly
to gentle thumb pressure, usually in late September or October. The fruits
have excellent flavor when eaten fresh, but they bruise easily and do
not keep well, even when refrigerated. Fortunately, pawpaws can be dried
or frozen for later use or processed into ice cream, cakes, cookies, breads
The pawpaw tree usually grows up to about
20 feet, although it can grow taller in a favorable location. A sunny
but moist, fertile, slightly acid location is best. The leaves have a
yellow fall color that can be brilliant on some specimens. The pawpaw
has a reputation for being very difficult to transplant but it is available
from many mail-order nurseries, including the following Midwestern sources.
Midwestern Mail-order Sources for Pawpaw trees
P.O. Box 100
Lacota, MI 49063-0100
Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery
797 Port Wooden Road
Upton, KY 42784
2310 W. South Range Rd.
North Lima, OH 44452-9731
Oikos Tree Crops
P.O. Box 19425
Kalamazoo, MI 49019-0425
1 Parkton Ave.
Greenwood, SC 29647-0001