Botanical Name: Asimina triloba
Brief Description and Notes: What a treat to have this beauty from a tropical plant family (Annonaceae, to which the delicious Custard Apple/Cherimoya also belongs) dwelling around us! By the end of August and throughout all of September, look for pawpaws turning lighter shades of green giving way into yellow and softening the way a peach or avocado might. When the fruits are present, the tree is hard to mis-identify. In other seasons, look for oblong leaves up to one foot long, a single trunk with thin, smooth bark with some irregular fissures.
Where To Look For It: Deciduous forests, rich soil, streambanks, slopes, near Buckeyes and Honey Locusts, local food forests/planted orchards
Ornamental Value: Few pest problems, pretty maroon flowers in early spring, and sweet smelling fruits in late summer, attractive tropical-looking large leaves
Ecological Value & Roles: Home to Zebra swallowtails. Many birds and mammals also eat the fruits. Requires at least two trees nearby each other for pollination; forms colonies over time.
Edibility and Other Human Use: Delicious fruits with the taste of banana/mango combined. Should be eaten right away (they don’t store well). Can be cut in half and the flesh scooped out or slurped. A common fun recipe is to make pawpaw ice cream, since the flesh is already so creamy.
Featured photo courtesy of USDA ARS
Other photos by Victoria Moyer