If you are looking to add some fall color to your landscape or want to diversify your native edibles, then pawpaw is the tree for you. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is deciduous and can provide a firework-show of yellow leaves that eventually fall in autumn. Aside from its colorful display, the tree also provides a fruit sweet enough to rival bananas and tempt both people and wildlife.
This North American native grows in a pyramidal shape and typically matures to a height of 15 or 20 feet. The leaves are dark green and usually six to twelve inches long and three to five inches wide. The tree has a unique drooping appearance, as if the stems can barely support the weight of the leaves.
Pawpaw blooms in springtime, producing leathery, purple flowers that are two inches wide. They may be pleasing to the eye, but the blooms are not praised for their fragrance. Flowers are followed by a unique fruit. Roughly three to six inches long, the fruits start out green, but then mature into a black or brown color. The ripened fruits have wrinkled skin and soft, custardy flesh that is dotted with large seeds. The flavor is similar to a banana and the fruit is quite nutritious. The edible fruits are also appreciated by wildlife, with racoons and birds frequently snatching them.
There are a variety of cultivar options available. Kentucky State University recommends 'Mango' for its vigorous growth, 'Overleese' for large fruits, and 'Collin's' as a good choice for the South. There are also dwarf species of pawpaw available, although they may not produce edible fruit. Check with your local nursery that specializes in natives to find unique pawpaw varieties.
Planting and Care
The tree is hardy in zones 5A through 8B, meaning it will grow best in North Florida. Pawpaw is incredibly easy to please since it grows in all light conditions, is moderately drought tolerant, and can survive flooding. However, you should plant pawpaw in full sun if you desire the lushest canopy. The ideal soil is rich, moist, and slightly acidic. Pawpaw can be easily propagated by seeds, layering, or root cuttings. Pruning should be minimal, except for maintaining the shape or for removing dead, diseased, or crossing branches.
Fortunately, pawpaw is not plagued by any major pests or diseases. However, you may spot zebra swallowtail caterpillars feeding on the foliage. This butterfly is the only kite swallowtail native to the US, and pawpaw is its host. Keep an eye out for the showy, striped butterflies once they are fully grown!
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More from UF/IFAS
- Asimina triloba: Pawpaw
- Zebra Swallowtail, Pawpaw butterfly, Kite Swallowtail, Ajax Eurytides marcellus
KSU Pawpaw Program
Kentucky State University has the only full-time pawpaw research program in the world as part of the KSU Land Grant Program.