082/366 Pawpaw - Asimina triloba, Julie Metz Wetlands, Woodbridge, Virginia

12 Interesting Facts About Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

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The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a fascinating native North American fruit with a rich history. Here are 12 interesting facts you may not know about this unique fruit.

1. Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit native to North America

Pawpaws can reach up to a pound in size, making them the biggest native fruit on the continent. Their large size earned them nicknames like “Hoosier banana” and “West Virginia banana.”

2. Pawpaws sustained Native Americans and early settlers

Pawpaws were an important food source for Native Americans, who spread the seeds along trade routes. When European settlers arrived, they also relied on wild pawpaws to supplement their diets. Pawpaws provide nutrients and calories, especially during the winter.

3. Presidents Washington and Jefferson enjoyed the fruit

America’s founding fathers appreciated the humble pawpaw. There are records of George Washington eating pawpaws for dessert at Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson had pawpaw trees planted at Monticello and left notes about their cultivation.

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4. Pawpaws have a tropical fruit flavor

The pawpaw’s flavor is often described as a mix of mango and banana. It has sweet, custardy yellow flesh reminiscent of tropical fruits. Pawpaws also give off fruity aromas of melon, vanilla, and citrus when ripe.

5. The trees have unique pollination requirements

Successfully pollinating pawpaw trees can be tricky. They have very large flowers that attract few native insects. And they require cross-pollination between trees of different genetic backgrounds. Hand pollination and genetically diverse orchards are best for good fruit set.

6. Pawpaw wood has special properties

Pawpaw wood is lightweight, straight-grained, and resistant to splitting. Frontiersmen used it to make fishing nets and stretchers. And the wood’s natural insect-repelling properties made it valuable for lining trunks to protect clothes.

7. The fruit is nutritious

Pawpaws are packed with nutrients including vitamins C and A, magnesium, iron, and copper. They also have high levels of antioxidants. These nutrients occur in the fruit pulp and seeds, which are edible.

8. You’ll rarely find them in stores

Despite their great flavor, you probably won’t see pawpaws sold commercially. They only grow in hardiness zones 5–9 in the eastern U.S., have a short shelf life, and are difficult to transport. So the only way to enjoy them is to find your own tree!

9. The trees thrive in the understory

In nature, pawpaws grow as understory trees along streams and river bottoms. They prefer shade and shelter, enriched soil, and moisture. Their position below the canopy also protects the fragile fruits from extreme weather.

10. Animals love the fruit too

Pawpaws have a strong, sweet aroma when ripe, attracting all types of animals. Raccoons, foxes, squirrels, and even bears compete for the nutritious fruits. So harvesting pawpaws quickly is key before the animals get to them first!

11. Research shows medicinal potential

Scientists are studying compounds called acetogenins found in pawpaw twigs and seeds. These substances show promise fighting cancer cells and harmful organisms. Pawpaw extracts may eventually have pharmaceutical applications.

12. Cultivation is increasing

While pawpaws will probably never become a commercial crop, their cultivation is on the rise. As interest grows, more nurseries are offering grafted trees and backyard growers are planting orchards across the tree’s native range.

Pawpaws have an amazing history in the U.S. and unique qualities that set them apart. Getting to pick and eat pawpaws fresh off the tree is an experience every American should have. With orchards expanding, hopefully, more people can discover the delight of this wild native fruit.

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