Pawpaw trees were discovered in 1541 by the Spanish explorer, Hernando Desoto, on an excursion into the Mississippi Valley, and he sent samples of this plant back to Europe.
William Bartram in 1776 stated in his botanical book, Travels, that he found pawpaw trees growing on the Alatamaha River in Georgia and in east Florida, which he described as, ‘Annona incarna,’ the name later was updated by modern taxonomists. “The fruit the size of a small cucumber …containing a yellow pulp of the consistence of a hard custard, and a very delicious, wholesome food.”
This fruit is agreeably flavored and considered to be the largest native fruit of North America. The pawpaw trees are said to be endangered or threatened in the states of New York and New Jersey, in the forests where it grows naturally.
The pawpaw tree grows across most of the eastern United States as a native tree. Mature pawpaw trees produce fruits 2″ wide by 10″ long, looking and tasting very much like a banana. The fruit is liked immensely by most people and may be purchased at many outdoor markets in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc. The pawpaw pulp has the consistency of creamy custard and may be eaten raw, baked, or used as a pie filling. The trees grow about 15′ tall and have been known to produce as much as 60 pounds of pawpaws per tree. Some individual pawpaws weigh up to a pound each. Zones 5-10
Much interest has been recently directed towards research and development of improved varieties of the pawpaw at Universities in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. The large fruit is not well known in much of the United States, but its flavor and exotic shape make it a candidate for the expansive, potential of specialty fruit markets in the future. Taste it once fresh and you will feel compelled to have some of these pawpaw trees growing in your personal fruit orchard.
One of the great horticultural mysteries of the world is: why have most paw paw trees, that were plentiful throughout early U.S. forests, virtually disappeared from their natural habitat today? That answer may lie within the research results (Peterson 1991), that showed that the paw paw is sensitive to ultraviolet light, thus, paw paw seedlings may not grow back after the forests have been harvested, and there are very few virgin forests left in the United States. Paw paws can be found growing there abundantly, but once the forests are clean-cut, the paw paw will not usually become re-established.
These experiments must be clearly remembered, when you order your paw paw trees. They must be planted under partial shade of other trees, however, you may plant your pawpaw trees in the open, if the trees are grown under shade cloth for a couple of seasons. The tree will lose its sensitivity to full sunlight once it has become established and the shade cloth can be discarded.
Some gardeners wish to plant their pawpaw trees in pots for a couple of years under shady conditions, but this is not necessary if the above guidelines are followed. Since paw paw trees are tap rooted, growth will be slow during the first year, but after that, very rapid growth occurs afterwards.
Paw paw leaves are large and that large leaf surface generally indicates a need for large amounts of soil moisture, and therefore, generally, paw paws are found in their greatest numbers near river flood plains. Leaves or other organic composted materials are very beneficial to paw paws.
The skin of paw paws is thin and edible and can vary in color from a light green to a golden yellow. Most people prefer to eat the pawpaw fruit after it becomes soft to the touch. The custard- like pulp tastes like banana and varies in color from white to deep orange. The seed are few and large, thus, pawpaws are easy to eat raw.
Most paw paws are sold at roadside markets, because the shelf life is short. Commercially, the paw paw is important in juices, pies, cakes, custards, ice cream and other processed products.
The pawpaw tree was voted by Better Homes and Gardens, in the year 2000, as the landscape tree of the year. The pawpaw and the pawpaw tree are loaded with beneficial health extracts. The bark contains fluids that demonstrate anti-tumor properties and have been used over the years to fight scarlet fever and red skin rashes. These extracts from pawpaw trees are highly useful as an organic insect killer (pesticide).
Pawpaw fruits are rich in minerals such as magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, potassium, and phosphorus. The fruit also contains abundant concentrations of Vitamin C, proteins, and their derivative amino acids.
There are a number of grafted cultivars of paw paw but their range of adaptation is very narrow, and many cultivars that produce heavy crops of large fruit in Kentucky, Indiana or West Virginia do not perform satisfactorily in Georgia, Florida, Carolina or Alabama. Consider buying improved seedling paw paw trees, which appear to be more adaptable universally. Try some of these trees in your orchard for a real tasty treat.