Pawpaw Tree Varieties: Recognizing Different Kinds Of Pawpaws
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Pawpaw fruit trees (Asimina triloba) are large edible fruit trees native to the United States and the only temperate member of the tropical plant family Annonaceae, or Custard Apple family. This family includes cherimoya and sweetsop as well as several different kinds of pawpaws. What varieties of pawpaw tree are available to the home grower? Read on to find out about the types of pawpaw trees available and other information on the various types of pawpaw trees.
About Pawpaw Fruit Trees
All types of pawpaw fruit trees require warm to hot summer weather, mild to cold winters and consistent rainfall throughout the year. They thrive in USDA zones 5-8 and can be found growing wild from south of New England, north of Florida and as far west as Nebraska.
Pawpaw trees are on the small side for fruit trees, about 15-20 feet (4.5-6 m.) in height. Although naturally they have a bushy, suckering habit, they can be pruned and trained into a single trunk, pyramid-shaped tree.
Because the fruit is too soft and perishable for shipping, pawpaw is not commercially grown and marketed. Pawpaw trees have significant resistance to pests, as their leaves and twigs contain a natural pesticide. This natural pesticide also seems to deter browsing animals such as deer.
The flavor of pawpaw fruit is said to be like a blend of mango, pineapple and banana – a veritable potpourri of tropical fruit and is, in fact, often called the ‘banana of the north.’ While most people enjoy the flavor of pawpaw fruit, some apparently have an adverse reaction to ingesting it, resulting in stomach and intestinal pain.
Pawpaw Tree Varieties
Many different kinds of pawpaws are available from nurseries. These are either seedlings or grafted named cultivars. Seedlings are usually a year of age and are less costly than grafted trees. Seedlings are not clones of the parent trees, so fruit quality can’t be guaranteed. Grafted cultivars, however, are trees that have been grafted to a named cultivar, ensuring that the qualities of the named cultivar have been passed to the new tree.
Grafted pawpaw trees are usually 2 years old. Whichever you purchase, be aware that pawpaws need another pawpaw to fruit. Purchase at least two genetically different trees, meaning two different cultivars. Since pawpaws have a delicate tap root and root system that can be easily damaged when dug up, container grown trees have a higher success or survival rate than field dug trees.
Varieties of Pawpaw Tree
There are now many cultivars of pawpaw to be had, each bred or selected for a particular characteristic. Some of the more common varieties include:
- Mary Foos Johnson
- Rebeccas Gold
New varieties developed for the mid-Atlantic include Susquehanna, Rappahannock, and Shenandoah.
Most of the cultivars available have been selected from a wild cultivar, although some are hybrids. Examples of wild bred seedlings are the PA-Golden series, Potomac, and Overleese. Hybrids include IXL, Kirsten, and NC-1.
Growing Pawpaws: Varieties, How to Plant, Care, and Troubleshooting
Ame lives off-the-grid on her beautiful farm in Falmouth, Kentucky. She has been gardening organically for over 30 years and has grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and ornamentals. She also participates in Farmers Markets, CSA, and mentors young farmers. Ame is the founder and director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center where she teaches environmental education programs in self-sufficiency, herbal medicine, green building, and wildlife conservation.
Who would guess that America’s ugliest native fruit would taste so good? Pawpaws are a small deciduous tree that grows in the understory layer of the forest. They thrive in the eastern United States from Michigan to the north of Florida and west into Nebraska.
The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) produces a greenish-yellow fruit that tastes downright tropical. Often compared to a mix of bananas and mangos it has a custard-like consistency. In fact, in Kentucky, you often hear them referred to as poor man’s banana. They’re also called the custard apple fruit.
The inside of the fruit is creamy white or pale yellow. They’re delicious raw, used in baking, and are popular for making into ice cream.
In recent years, there has been increased interest in growing pawpaws commercially and in back yards. Kentucky State University has the longest-running full-time research program dedicated to the propagation and management of native pawpaw trees.
I was lucky enough to go to a class on raising pawpaws on the campus where we visited KSU’s pawpaw orchard. Part of the class was a taste testing, which kickstarted my desire for growing pawpaws.
The pawpaw has thin skin and soft fruit. This makes it very hard to ship without it rotting. As such, pawpaws are in much demand at local farmer’s markets and summer festivals. But the best way to have fresh pawpaws is to grow them yourself.
As well as ‘good eatin,’ the pawpaw has also been involved in some interesting research. Scientists have found the seeds and leaves make a powerful natural insecticide and pesticide.
Pawpaw Trees: A Native Fruit
Even though pawpaw is native to eastern Kansas, many people in the state have never eaten one. Fruits resemble fat bananas and are generally up to 6 inches long and as much as 3 inches wide. The taste is unique and is difficult to describe but is often said to resemble bananas or pineapple and has a texture somewhat like custard. They are rarely grown commercially because they are difficult to ship and do not store well. Ripe fruit will only hold 2 to 3 days at room temperature and up to a week under refrigeration.
Pawpaw prefers a well-drained, moderately acid (pH 5.5 to 7.0), moist soil and high organic matter content. Organic mulch is also recommended. Irrigation will be helpful to necessary depending on what part of Kansas they are grown.
In the wild, the pawpaw is an understory tree and may do better with partial shade, especially during the first 2 to 3 years. Protection from high winds is also advisable due to the large leaves. The pawpaw is a small tree that may reach 20 feet high but is less broad. Trees require cross-pollination and so at least 2 and preferably 3 different varieties should be grown. These trees are pollinated by insects other than bees such as beetles and flies and must be planted close together. Trees should be no further than 30 feet apart in order to insure good pollination.
The soil for planting should be prepared in advance of receiving the trees. Amend the soil with organic matter in the area where the trees will be planted. Do not amend just the soil from the planting hole, especially if the soil is heavy and has high clay content. If you do, you have essentially made a pot that will hold water and may drown the tree. Rather, add organic matter to the area in which the tree will be planted before digging the planting hole at least a 10- by 10-foot square. You may want to treat the entire area where your trees will be planted. Add 2 inches of organic matter to the surface of the soil and then till in.
The planting hole should be the same depth as the root system but 2 to 3 times as wide. Pawpaws have fleshy roots and are better planted in the spring (April) rather than fall unless container grown. Container-grown plants can be planted virtually anytime.
Using Pawpaw Fruit in Food
Since the tree grows wild in the U.S., the fruit has played a role in our history. George Washington’s favorite dessert was chilled pawpaw and Lewis and Clark subsisted on pawpaw at times during their journeys. As the fruit ripens in September, the fragrance of the fruit fills the air and creates a seasonal olfactory experience in the garden. All of the fruit comes on within a two-week period. The fruit has not been widely cultivated, in part, because it has a very short shelf life, said Bono.
Bono has discovered several ways to enjoy the harvest. Her go to pawpaw recipes are pawpaw ice cream, pawpaw bread and pawpaw salsa. She suggests utilizing the fruit the easy way.
“Rather than making ice cream from scratch,” she said, “I found it’s just as good to let a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream soften then stir pawpaw pulp into it, about a cup, then let it refreeze.” For breads, she purchases banana bread mixes from the grocery and substitutes paw paw pulp in the same amount as the banana. Make a large batch and freeze the breads. The most difficult part of these recipes is removing the large black seeds from the pulp. She also freezes pulp for later use. Her favorite pawpaw dish is pawpaw salsa.
Pawpaw Salsa Recipe
Peel, seed, and chop 2-3 large pawpaws.
Mix with 1/4 cup green and 1/4 red bell peppers, coarsely chopped.
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced.
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro.
2 T. red onion, chopped.
1 1/2 tsp. fresh lime juice.
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes.
Chill and serve. She likes to use scoop-type chips to get a good portion.
Peterson Pawpaws are patented varieties "Shanandoah," "Susquehanna," "Rappahannock," " Allegheny," "Potomac" and "Wabash," selected for flavor and commercial potential. The growers sell pawpaw fruit at farmer's markets, where the taste test determines which pawpaws make it to the patent process. According to the Neal Peterson of Peterson Pawpaws, "Susquehanna" -- a large-fruited variety, late-ripening with yellow flesh -- is his personal favorite and is less fragile than most pawpaws.