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What’s A Pawpaw?  Can You Really Eat One?
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2014 by eNature
Pawpaw Fruit
Pawpaw Fruit
Range of Common Pawpaw
Range of Common Pawpaw
© USDA

Pawpaw season will arrive soon in the Eastern US. 

So just what is a pawpaw, other than something many of us sang about as children?

And what the heck does one taste like?

It’s actually an interesting story…

The Common Pawpaw is the northernmost New World representative of a chiefly tropical family, which includes the popular tropical fruits Annona, Custard-apple, Sugar-apple, and Soursop.  It produces the largest edible fruit indigenous to North America.

The plant has large oblong leaves and many observers think it looks like a tropical plant, although it is native to over 25 states in the eastern U.S.  It’s generally found in patches in well-drained, deep, fertile bottom-land and hilly upland habitat.

The wild fruit was once harvested, but the supply has now decreased greatly due to the clearing of forests. The small crop is generally consumed only by wildlife, such as opossums, squirrels, raccoons, and birds. Attempts have been made to cultivate Common Pawpaw as a fruit tree but it’s not commonly found under cultivation.

The pawpaw is an understory tree, often appearing more like a bush than a tree, with fruit found singly or more often in clusters much like bananas.  It doesn’t self-polinate, so other pawpaw plants need to be in the vicinity for it to produce fruit.

And from all reports, the fruit is quite tasty to humans with a sweet-smelling, creamy flesh that tastes like a blend of papaya, banana, mango and pineapple.

One other interesting fact about the Pawpaw is that it’s the host plant for the caterpillar of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, which eats its leaves.

The name Common Pawpaw is from the Arawakan name of Papaya, an unrelated tropical American fruit.  The plant was first recorded by the DeSoto expedition in the lower Mississippi Valley in 1541.

Ever encountered a pawpaw?  How did it taste to you?

Please share your stories below— we always love to hear them.

 

Learn more about the Pawpaw in eNature's field guide »

Here's an interesting story about cultivating pawpaws »

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