All About Pawpaws and Pawpaw Fruit

Roadside farm market has high demand for pawpaws.

| July/August 2011

Imagine a fruit as tropical and exotic as the banana that’s hardy in northern zones and as naturally pest resistant as it is delicious and nutritious. You may think awhile and conclude that this fruit simply doesn’t exist, but at my family’s Magicland Farm we grow many types and varieties of fruits and vegetables, and our homegrown banana-like pawpaws are among the most popular. We don’t grow the pawpaws in greenhouses or solariums. Rather, they are grown outside, and while their DNA is composed of genes that evolved in the tropics, pawpaw trees survive with ease in temperatures that drop below zero. 

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) belongs to the tropical custard apple family, which includes delights such as sweetsop, soursop, cherimoya and, of course, the custard apple, which is the botanical family’s namesake. Pawpaws are also locally known as Michigan Bananas, Hoosier Bananas, and Insert-state-where-they-are-native  Bananas because their flavor, and in some ways their texture, is reminiscent of the grocery store variety banana.

Germinating an interest

Many years ago, I read Euell Gibbons’ book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and when I got to the chapter on papaws (Gibbons’ spelling), I felt tingles travel from my toes to my neck. What I read indicated that the pawpaw tree was unusual, it bore delicious fruit that wasn’t bothered by bugs or disease, and – perhaps most intriguing of all – it was really a tropical tree that somehow wound up with enough toughness to grow wild in northern states.

After learning that the pawpaw was native to Michigan (and the range from northern Florida to southern Ontario, and as far west as eastern Nebraska to east Texas), I kept an eye out for it every time I took a walk or drove through a forested area. I looked for years without success. Then one warm mid-October day, when my dad and I were hiking along the banks of Michigan’s Muskegon River looking for a good place to fish, I unknowingly walked right into the middle of a thicket of pawpaw trees. That was truly an exciting day.

The next day, thoughts of fishing faded from my mind, but I still headed back to the river. This time with a camera and (yes, I confess) a shovel. I used a roll of film on the pawpaw trees, and then calmly dug up an 18-inch-high root sucker from the big pawpaw patch. My only excuse is that I was young and naïve.  

After moving that bootlegged pawpaw around a bit (and no, it wasn’t to avoid the law), I finally gave it a permanent home at our Magicland Farms. That now-33-foot-tall tree has plenty of company, including some grafted named varieties, and in my opinion it produces fruit of the highest quality. I’ve since named the variety “Newaygo” because the parent tree was located within the city limits of Newaygo, Michigan.

Erin Kennedy Stroud
6/1/2013 4:31:01 PM

I grew up in Michigan, but never new pawpaws were native, nor did I ever see a tree on any of the MANY woodland hikes I took. I am now living in northwest Georgia; can't wait to give growing them a try!

Mary Carton
8/19/2012 1:19:03 PM

Can't wait for my 2 to fruit. We have a native plant nursery here that sells them. They bloomed this spring, but with the dry weather the fruit fell off or is stunted.

7/13/2011 9:15:48 PM

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