From Eat the Weeds and Other Things Too website
By Green Deane
Pawpaw Picking Up is Rare
Pawpaw can be a dwarf shrub or a small tree
|Asimina triloba||Asimina incana||Asimina longifolia|
|Asimina parviflora||Asimina reticulata|
Finding your first pawpaw is a thrilling moment.
can remember exactly where it happened and when. It was the summer of
1987 in Longwood, Florida, in The Springs, a gated community, along a
nature walk. I happened to glance over and saw a pair of horribly
stunted misshapen green bananas. And as is often the case, once one
gets the image of the plant in the head by meeting it in person, one
begins to see them. Their most common appearance in Central Florida is
along the margins of Interstate 4 in the Deland area, and of course,
Wild pawpaws fall in the same category as gopher
apples. The woodland creatures usually find them first so you rarely
see a ripe one. The fruit is edible straight from the tree but
palatability varies. There are two general types. One ripens early and
is large with flavorful yellow flesh; the other is often smaller,
ripens later, and has white, milder flesh. You can also divide pawpaws
another way, Florida and all others. Florida’s pawpaws tend to be
shrubs, if not dwarfs. They are: Asimina obovata, Asimina incana, Asimina reticulata, Asimina longifolia, Asimina pygmaea, and Asimina tetramera. Farther north one can find the Asimina triloba
reaching small tree height and in the coastal areas Asimina parviflora.
While I have not personally tasted them all Dr. Daniel Austin in
Florida Ethnobotany says he presumes they are all edible.
are rich in nutritional value, including high levels of vitamins A and
C. The downside is they don’t ship or store well, on par with
loquats. Also they severely nauseate some people, can cause a rash when
handled, and the seeds contain a depressant. Incidentally, the fruit is
the largest native North American fruit and is heavy on the protein
Pawpaws are also a little difficult to cultivate. Well, in
fact, they are really hard to cultivate. They need a lot of pampering
for a few years to get them started, after that they are quite free of
problems. They also attract a wide variety of butterflies.
who champion the cause of pawpaws think that if they can persuade
nurseries to pay more attention to the plant it can be a commercial
success. It has few pests so it can be grown organically with little
fuss. There might be even pawpaws on your grocery shelf in a few years.
That would depend upon the lawyers.
Like all plants the pawpaw
is a mini chemical factory. The Indians used dried pawpaw seed powder
to control head lice and pharmaceutical preparations today still use
pawpaws for that. The leaves are diuretic and the bark yields a strong
fiber for cordage. It also belongs in a family of fruit trees that are
suspected in inducing Parkinson’s Disease.
currently being researched. Pawpaw has not been indicted but to a
lawyer all that might be close enough to keep the fruit off the grocery
stores shelves. You might have to forage for pawpaws or grow your own.
Which reminds me, historically, the pawpaw was under cultivation by
Indians east of the Mississippi when de Soto traipsed through in 1541.
Chilled papaw fruit was a favorite dessert of George Washington. Thomas
Jefferson planted some at his Monticello. I don’t recall of
either dying from Parkinson’s. As for its usual genus name, Asimina (uh-SIM-min-nuh) nearly any guess is as good as any other.
best deduction is the Indians called the bush Assimin
(“min” in Algonquin means food, still found in
“persimmon.” ) Assimin would be fine enough but then
European languages and writers get involved. The early French
inhabitants of Louisiana, called the fruit, Asiminer, from which we get
the genus name. This is somewhat close to the Latin word for monkey,
simia. That led to an early reference to calling the plant
“monin” which was an old French word for monkey.
came from the Greek word for monkey, maimou. It changed through Latin
into the romance languages as monin, mouninu, monnino, monin. That
leads folks to think the fruit had something to do with monkeys but I
think it was just an assumption of one botanist who thought Louisiana
French were referring to a “monkey plant.” Further, the
pawpaw is North American and there are no native monkeys.
Florida version is Asimina reticulata, (reh-tick-yoo-LAY-tuh) meaning
the veins in the leaf have a net pattern. It can be found in slightly
damp or occasionally damp areas. Another is Asimina obovata
(oh-bo-VAY-ta) meaning egg-shaped leaves. It likes it dryer ground can
grow twice as tall as the reticulata. The others are more or less
reported, not the most common of shrubs. Locally pawpaws are rarely
over a yard high whereas farther north the grow into trees. The A.
obovata is listed as rare and the A. tetramera endangered.
would think pawpaws would be a bit easier to explain, but no, and it
also points to one of the problems of the Internet, amateur copiers and
professional copiers as well. Many say pawpaw (or papaw or paw-paw) is
a corruption of the American Indian word papaya, a version or cognate
shortened by the Spanish. That’s not too bad, no great stretch
there. And that it came originally from native Americans seems
reasonable. Others, no doubt copying the same wrong site, note that it
is Indian then make a huge leap across the Pacific and say it is from
the Hindi language, you know, near China and then younger folks wonder
why older folks don’t trust the Internet.
Two aspects of
the pawpaw I’ve found interesting is first it is in the Magnolia
family and is actually much older than the larger magnolias. The little
ol’ pawpaw came first first. Next is that it is pollinated by
carrion flies and insects attracted to fetid odors. Growers often put
road kill or rotting meat in their groves to attract the pollinating
flies. Now there’s a tasty thought…
How to spell
it… dictionaries are split, pawpaw, papaw… if you go back
to the original it should be papa said pawpaw. In that regard papaw
seems halfhearted. The USDA says pawpaw, Dr. Austin, ever sensitive to
language’s influence on botany, went with pawpaw. Pawpaw
eliminates mispronunciation, looks balanced to me and reflects the
balanced sound the ear hears… always the musician…
Annual Pawpaw Festival
And in case you wondered since 1994, Kentucky State University http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/
has served as the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository, for
Asimina species, as a satellite site of the NCGR repository at
Corvallis, OR. There are over 2,000 trees from 17 states there on 12
acres at the KSU farm.
Researchers evaluate the genetic
diversity contained in wild pawpaw populations so that unique material
can be added to the KYSU repository collection to be used in breeding.
And for an unusual recreational and educational opportunity, visit the
Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival in September Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio
for three days of Pawpaw music, food, contests, art, history,
education, sustainable living workshops and activities for the kids!
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
Shrubs or small trees, three to 40 feet, 15 common, evergreen in
southern area, deciduous in northern area. Leaves alternate, simple
ovate, smooth edge entire, length varies with species, flowers foul
smelling of rotting meat, single or in clusters, three large outer
petals, three inner smaller petals, white to purple or red-brown. Fruit
like cylindrical pears, misshapen, many seeds; green when unripe,
maturing to yellow or brown, flavor similar to both banana and mango.
Time of year: End of summer, fall
Rich bottom lands to rain-watered pastures, open areas, beside open
areas. The two most common places I find it is at the base of tall
pines or in cow pastures.
Method of preparation:
Used like a banana, raw or cooked, as in baked desserts, ice cream,
pastries, or in making beer. Don’t eat the skin and don’t
eat the seeds. Chewed seeds will cause digestive problems, whole seed
usually pass through. Try only a very little at first. Some people have
a very severe allergic reaction to pawpaws.
Disclaimer from Green Deane
Information contained on this website is strictly and
categorically intended as a reference to be used in conjunction with
experts in your area. Foraging should never begin without the guidance
and approval of a local plant specialist. The providers of this website
accept no liability for the use or misuse of information contained in