Growing the Pawpaw Tree

A close-up of pawpaw with fruit
artdrauglis/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Can you name the largest tree fruit that originally comes from North America? If you said the pawpaw, congratulations! This edible fruit is either made into desserts or eaten fresh. More people should be planting this tree in their gardens.

The pawpaw has been named the native state fruit of Ohio.

Scientific Name

The scientific name for this fruit is Asimina triloba. There are seven other species in the genus.

Family

This belongs to the Annonaceae family, which are usually found in tropical areas. The pawpaw genus is the notable exception. Some species include cherimoya (Annona cherimola), guanabana (Annona muricata), ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) and custard apple (Annona reticulata).

Common Names

There are many different common names for this tree, and several refer to the texture, which is similar to a banana. Besides pawpaw, there is paw paw, prairie banana, papaw, poor man's banana, paw-paw, Indian banana, American pawpaw, Hoosier banana, common pawpaw and Indiana banana.

In some areas like Australia, they use pawpaw as a common name for the papaya (Carica papaya), but these are completely different fruits.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones

The pawpaw should be planted in Zones 5-9 for the best results. All species of Asimina are native to Eastern North America.

Size and Shape

The average tree will reach a mature size of 15-30' tall and wide. It usually forms multiple trunks.

Exposure

Plant this where it will receive full sun to full shade, though full sun is the best choice for maximum fruit production.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit

The pawpaw leaves are huge and can be up to 12" long. They provide a tropical look that is similar to its Annonaceae cousins. The leaves will smell bad if they are torn.

The flowers on this tree are an intense shade of dark reddish-brown and start blooming before the leaves unfurl. As you might guess from the fact that these are pollinated by blowflies (Order Diptera, family Calliphoridae), the blossoms can smell horrible. Some say the scent is like rotten meat. On a happier note, zebra swallowtail butterflies like to visit them, though the caterpillars munch on the leaves.

The pawpaw is like a cross between an avocado, a mango, and a pear in both looks and flavor. They are borne in clusters. It is possible they could show up at a local farmer's market, but they are not sold commercially because they do not ship or store well.

Design Tips

You will need two different varieties for proper pollination. Some possibilities include 'Mango,' 'Shenandoah,' 'Taytwo,' 'Overleese' and 'Allegheny.'

Growing Tips

Choose a location with moist soil that provides drainage. It can tolerate alkaline soil.

Pawpaws form a long taproot and can struggle if transplanted. You may want to try planting seeds in your yard for the optimum start, though this takes longer. These can be planted after a period of stratification in a location that is cool and moist.

Maintenance and Pruning

The pawpaw does tend to clone itself, so you will need to control the suckers if you are not looking to have your own pawpaw forest.

Pests and Diseases

There are not many pests that bother this fruit tree. The pawpaw peduncle borer (Talponia plummeriana) can destroy the flowers and decrease fruit production.

The zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) larvae do eat the leaves, but it is usually not enough to cause a serious problem.

These trees are usually free of diseases. The only problems come from rots and decays. One possible cause is poor soil drainage.