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Finding Paw Paws

General Posts, Identification

Yesterday, I was walking home from a friend’s house in the South Side Flats, on the way up the hill Ella and I came across Paw Paws! (Asimina triloba)

Paw Paws!

Paw Paws! (Asimina triloba)

We couldn’t believe it: just that morning we were hiking in Frick Park searching for some, to no avail.

Paw paws are a delicious, native, tropical fruit, that actually grow up into Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan…I think even in Toronto! Hardly anyone knows about them, because they have such a short shelf life that they can’t be sold in supermarkets (though if you’re lucky, you may find them at a Farmer’s Market, as we did recently in Charlottesville, VA.)

Now is the time of year, and when they have just fallen naturally from the tree (as above), you’ll find the fruit to be soft and delicious.

The inside of the fruit is bright yellow, with large hard dark seeds. Here is one that Dave cut open:

Inside of a Paw Paw

Inside of a Paw Paw

The taste is similar to a mix of a banana and mango, and very flowery (though there are many types, or cultivars, each tasting a bit different.) You actually need two trees of different cultivars together to get fruits. In this yard, there were three trees growing in a row (below are two.)

Paw Paw Trees on The South Side of Pittsburgh

Paw Paw Trees on The South Side of Pittsburgh

You don’t eat the skin or seeds, the seeds are big, round and black, and are quite easy to avoid. When you find them this ripe, you can just pull them open and eat the flesh right out, spitting the seeds (or eating around them.) Tomorrow, I’ll show you in detail how I made a delicious slushie with the paw paws.

Up close you’ll see the leaves are large and tropical-looking leaves (they are described as “alternate, deciduous, simple, 7-12 in long, 3-5.5 in wide, usually broadest near tip” by Elias and Dykeman in Edible Wild Plants.)

Paw Paw Tree

Paw Paw Tree

The fruits look a bit like mangoes, are light green and grow in clusters from the trees. They soften when they are ripe, and naturally fall off the tree. They then turn yellow and brown as they ripen further.

Paw Paw Fruits

Paw Paw Fruits

To propagate paw paw from seeds, keep the seeds moist, and they need a cold time (cold, wet stratification), at least 100 days in the refrigerator, before they’ll sprout. You can keep them packed in sphagnum moss or peat moss in a plastic bag in the fridge. (Or, you can plant them in the ground in the fall, and hope, and let the cold moist stratification happen naturally.)

Paw Paw seed in foreground, young paw paw shoots in the background

Paw Paw seed in foreground, young paw paw shoots in the background

Dave and I found some tiny seedlings at the foot of these trees, and they already had quite a long taproot. Paw paws are usually found in bottomlands, in rich deep soil along rivers. We transplanted these to our yard, but also put seeds in the ground nearby (and some in the fridge) in the hopes at least a few will take.

Very Young Paw Paw Seedlings

Very Young Paw Paw Seedlings

Tomorrow, I’ll show you how I made this delicious Paw Paw Slushie:

Delicious Slushie Made with Paw Paw, Water and Ice

Delicious Slushie Made with Paw Paw, Water and Ice

  • PercivaldeLeon

    i am fascinated by pawpaw and would want to plant a few seedlings.
    will it thrive around chicago area?

  • I am almost certain that your area is one in which paw paws will grow in the right soil conditions. Good luck!

  • Sevinufnine

    I live in South Western Virginia and know they grow in our mountain although no luck yet finding them on my property. A friend brought me a couple dozen 2 yrs ago from the Roanoke are and I saved the seed and have them outside over the winter in soil hoping they sprout. They were so delicious and yes...tasted like banana and mango. (They looked like a champagne mango on the outside.) Our winter has been cold, so how I hope to have something to transplant to my campsite this spring or summer! They are so darn good! I was impressed. Even my husband who is a meat and potatos guy said they were good.

  • Yes, we love them too. That's a great description of them. Thanks so much for your comment!

  • Jonawebb

    I have some trees growing in front of my house in Squirrel Hill. I posted about them, their history, and their progeny at http://pittsburghgardenexperim....

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