Praising pawpaws

As fall draws near, I’m watching my pawpaws like a hawk. They’re starting to yellow, but are still hard. I’m waiting for them to soften and emit their inimitable sweet aroma before picking. These are the first fruits from a selected seedling tree I planted a few years ago.


As fall draws near, I’m watching my pawpaws like a hawk. They’re starting to yellow, but are still hard. I’m waiting for them to soften and emit their inimitable sweet aroma before picking. These are the first fruits from a selected seedling tree I planted a few years ago.

Pawpaw. What a wonderful name for a fruit. So good that it’s also used to describe papayas in the tropics. The tropical connection is definitely there for our northern pawpaws as well. They are an escaped genus from an otherwise tropical fruit family, the Anonaceae, whose delightful cousins include custard apple, sweet sop, and sour sop that I often enjoy on my frequent Permaculture projects in Jamaica. But pawpaw escaped the tropics and now grows quite happily into Michigan, bringing along some of its rare exotic mango/banana-like flavor to add variety to the North American fruit palette. Pawpaw is, after all, the largest native North American fruit and was a great favorite of native peoples long before the first European settler hit these shores.

With pawpaw seedlings you never know exactly what you’ll got until you get your first fruit, so for me I’ve been expectantly waiting for that first fruit set. It makes good sense to choose your seedling genetics with care. A selected seedling means the seed a plant grew from is seed from superior pawpaw cultivars. These cultivars were either selected from the wild for their superior qualities, or resulted from a pawpaw enthusiast’s plant breeding program. My tree’s fruit is quite large, which means I’ve got some real pawpaw potential here. My exaltation and pride in this little pawpaw tree will hopefully be complete when it passes its final rite of passage- the taste and texture test. I can hardly wait for that first taste of fruit from this uniquely individual young tree.

Chuck's pawpaw treeThis spring when this tree bloomed for the second time and its companion pawpaw was still too young to bloom and provide the necessary cross-pollination, I wanted fruit! So I put some cut branches with blooms from another pawpaw in my tree. The cut branches were precariously balanced in a jar of water up in a crotch of my tree, near my tree’s blossoms. And it worked like a charm. I got incredible fruit set with this desperate horticultural strategy. One fruit cluster has five pawpaws in it, and there are nine other fruits on my young tree. I think it’s because pawpaws are cross-pollinated by flies, bugs and beetles, which aren’t as mobile as bees. So, I suspect that having the pollinator flowers so close by resulted in high levels of successful pollination and fruit set. Now that I know this works, I plan some refinements for next year in what I’m calling the “cut branch fruit boosting” strategy for pawpaws. I can imagine this horticultural strategy’s adoption to really increase backyard pawpaw production by just trading cut branches between blooming trees and not having to rely on two trees being close enough together to assure good cross-pollination. Try it and let me know what you discover!

BTW, the nursery currently has some selected pawpaw seedlings in stock that were grown from seed from trees in Dr. Ron Powell’s orchard in Ohio. Dr. Powell is a pioneer and leader in 21st century pawpaw cultivar development. We are delighted to have this limited offering available to you, our devoted fruit enthusiasts.


Chuck Marsh, pawpaw

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