Article from the Tropical Fruit News magazine of the Miami Rare Fruit Council International
by William F. Whitman

The Challenge of Pawpaws in the Subtropics

I have always been intrigued by challenges: the challenge of growing ultra-tropical fruit like the mangosteen, Garcinia mangostana, where the occasional frost occurs; the challenge of bringing temperate zone fruits into our near tropical South Florida climate. Some have been partially successful, like fruiting the mangosteen and introducing the 'Dorsett Golden Apple,' Pyrus malus, into Florida from where it has gone worldwide. One challenge that has been a complete failure were my attempts to grow the pawpaw, Asimina triloba, here in the southern end of the Sunshine State.

I first became aware of the pawpaw in 1955, about the time the Rare Fruit Council was formed in Miami. It seemed rather exciting to realize a relative of our tropical Annonas actually grew over a thousand miles north of here in lands of winter ice and snow. An order was placed through a temperate zone nursery catalogue for plants of this Annonaceous fruit. The pawpaw arrived bare root in apparently good condition. It was therefore somewhat of a surprise to find that shortly after being potted up they all died. (!) Next I got northern friends to forward ripe fruit which I found to have a pleasant flavor but which were a bit on the seedy side. As these seeds were rather large and were taken from the mature fruit I had high hopes, upon planting them, for a good germination rate. Surprisingly, none came up. (!) Some years later I was told these bare-root pawpaw shipments were seldom successful. I also found a West Coast nursery that shopped both seedling and grafted pawpaws growing in pots with their roots undisturbed. Here was my chance to receive named, grafted pawpaw plants from the Northwoods Nursery in Molalla, Oregon.

After placing an order with this Pacific Coast nursery, the plants duly arrived in excellent condition. I thought I now has a reasonable chance of success. after putting out a few small leaves, these northern custard apple relatives went into a growth freeze and finally gave up, dying eighteen months later.

I next received ripe pawpaws from friends in Michigan and New Jersey. After eating and enjoying the fruit I placed the seeds in our refrigerator (not the deep freeze). Four months later they were removed and potted up. I got 100 germination with plants as healthy as any newly sprouted Annonas I have ever seen. The juvenile seedlings were soon putting out new leaves and my hopes for their future looked good. Unfortunately our climate seems to be too consistently warm for these temperate plants. After several months the seedlings stopped growing, wilted and died.

From my experiences it does appear the pawpaw is not suited to south Florida culture. Ifwe are to ever have any pawpaw successes I feel different approaches must be tried. One approach would be to search for a suitable rootstock among the Annonas, one that would be compatible with Asimina triloba and hopefully allow it to tolerate warmer year -round environmental growing conditions.

Another approach is to get plants and seeds from indigenous pawpaws growing wild in their most southerly range, instead of those from more northern regions. Possible plant breeders can cross tropical Annonas with their northern cousins producing hybrids with climatic requirements more favorable to Southern Florida.

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Whitman, William F.. "The Challenge of Pawpaws in the Subtropics." Tropical Fruit News, Miami Rare Fruit Council. Feb. 1994. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.

Published 2 Mar. 2017 LR
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