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ASIMINA triloba

Image of Asimina triloba

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Annonaceae

Botanical Name

ASIMINA triloba

Plant Common Name

Pawpaw

General Description

The northernmost representative of the otherwise tropical fruit family, Annonaceae, pawpaw is beloved for its interesting foliage and odd-tasting, edible fruit. The native distribution of this small tree is from the very southernmost reaches of Ontario, Canada, south to Florida, and westward to Texas. Natural populations inhabit bottomlands, floodplains and ravines. This species is quite common in many areas of the country but is listed as a species of concern in others.

Large, oval leaves with pointed tips alternate each other on slender branches of pawpaw. The leaves are medium to deep green and turn yellow to orangish red in fall. New twig growth is covered with coppery hairs. Pawpaw bears flowers on the previous year’s wood. These emerge in spring before (or just as) the new leaves emerge. The blooms are sometimes borne in groups. Each is nodding, cup-shaped, maroon or purple-brown and has a foul smell. This fetid odor attracts flies and beetles, which pollinate the self-infertile flowers.

Pawpaw bears some of the largest edible fruit of any other native North American tree. The large, oblong fruits are almost mango-shaped and technically "true berries." They have a thick, greenish skin than gives on the surface when they are ripe. The yellow, custard-like flesh inside is soft and has many large, dark brown seeds embedding within. Some say it tastes like banana crossed with a pineapple, while others say it tastes like old, somewhat fetid bananas. The fruits may cause stomach problems in some people.

Pawpaw saplings grow best when planted in filtered sun, while older trees grow and produce best in sunny or partially sunny sites. They grow well in a variety of moist soils with moderately good drainage. Pruning is rarely necessary except to remove dead or damaged wood. These are ideal trees for home orchards and landscapes as well as natural areas and native woodland gardens.

This can be a difficult tree to propagate. The seeds require a long period of cool stratification (extended exposure to cool, moist conditions) before they will germinate. Stem cuttings have proven mostly unsuccessful though pawpaw grafts well. This species tends to produce many root suckers, but they do not transplant well. All pawpaws require gentle handling and a long period of adjustment to survive transplanting.

Pawpaw leaves, seeds and bark contain complex chemical substances, which are under investigation for anticancer drugs as well as insecticidal uses. The leaves are the larval food for zebra swallowtail butterflies and pawpaw sphinx moths. In fact, the chemicals help the insects against predation.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    8 - 6

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    6 - 9

  • Sunset Zone

    2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    15'-40' / 4.6m - 12.2m

  • Width

    15'-20' / 4.6m - 6.1m

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Spring

  • Native To

    Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Purple, Burgundy, Brown

  • Fruit Color

    Yellow, Green, Yellow Green, Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Yellow, Copper, Orange Red

  • Bark Color

    Brown, Gray

  • Bark Color Modifier

    Multi-Color

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    Yes

  • Fragrant Foliage

    Yes

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Fissured

  • Usage

    Edible, Feature Plant, Fruit / Fruit Tree, Mixed Border, Shade Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds, Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes