Coo-Coo for Paw-Paws

Nope, not Cocoa Puffs. I have been Coo-Coo for Paw Paws ever since I wrote an article about them for Helium (a writing service that has since changed names). While many in the world consider a Paw Paw to be a Papaya, The fruit to which I am referring to is the American Paw Paw.

‘Asimina triloba’, to be exact. The largest edible tropical fruit indigenous to North America. Part of the Order Magnoliales, which includes the tulip, magnolia and nutmeg, and more specifically, the Annonaceae Family which includes other large pulpy fruit like the custard apple, soursop and sweetsop to name a few.

Natures Custard

‘Asimina triloba’ is often referred to as the ‘poor man’s banana’, Hoosier banana, Prairie Banana and my personal favorite, the ‘Banango’ (for it’s unique custardy pulp that looks somewhat like a mango while having a banana-like texture). Some have also likened the taste to having a hint of pineapple or even cantaloupe. Whatever it may taste like, it is unique to North America.

Finding a Paw-Paw can be quite the endeavor. They ripen quickly, bruise easily and do not store well (lasting only a day or two at room temperature, and perhaps a week if refrigerated). It does however make wonderful ice cream, and can be used in jams, jellies and any recipe calling for bananas. The American Paw Paw is known to have more proteins than most other fruits.

Flowering Paw-Paw

Paw-Paws are also difficult to pollinate, as their flowers have a near non-existent scent. What odor it does produce can be foul, likened to rotten eggs or rotting meat. Common pollinators, when they can be found, include fruit flies, blowflies and carrion beetles. While it is suggested in numerous publications to plant at least Two (2) different varieties, some farmers have even resorted to hanging raw meat or chicken necks nearby to aid in pollination. Some animals that feed on the Paw Paw include foxes, raccoons, squirrels opossums and even black bears.

Native Americans often used the tough inner fibrous bark for making fishing nets, mats and ropes. The logs have also been used for split-rail fences.

As an added benefit, Wikipedia also states:

Zebra Swallowtail

Due to the presence of acetogenins, the leaves, twigs, and bark of pawpaw trees can be used to make an organic insecticide.[12] The one notable exception is the zebra swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus), whose larvae feed on the leaves of various species of Asimina, conferring protection from predation throughout the butterfly’s life, as trace amounts of acetogenins remain present, making them unpalatable to birds and other predators.[15]

Other family members, like the ‘pepper plant’, are often used (in Africa) to spice meats, and the ylang-ylang has aromatic oils that are used in perfumes and spices.

Paw Paw seedlings are often expensive. 1-2 foot tall saplings can cost upwards of $30 each. However, if you are willing to grow your own from seed, it takes about three years to reach this height. (One of my seeds sprouted the first year, this year!) Most seeds spend the first 6 months of the first year sending down its deep taproot, before emerging above ground the following year. (I got my seeds from KSU – Kentucky State University, which has the only full time Paw Paw research program in the world! I sent them my request on their Facebook page in early spring, and they sent me TEN seeds for free.)

Paw-Paw patch

After that, the young seedlings require an additional 1-2 years of ambient light, found best in an ‘understory’ location. This is important, as direct sunlight can kill the young saplings. Paw-Paws also enjoy rich, well drained soil, again found in nature along the edges of forest growth. (Think years and years of dropped and decayed -ing leaves, and the rich organic soil it creates. Usually damp under the top layer). Finally, Paw-Paws do NOT transplant well, as their long and deep roots are quite fragile, and susceptible to breaking, which often kills the seedling.

Once you get it growing, however, Watch Out! Paw-Paws are ‘runners’ (underground roots) and will create ‘patches’ of Paw-Paws 20’40’ high and several feet thick. More if not properly tamed.

Written by Jack Sprout for       All World Wide Rights Reserved


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