If you like fruit trees, you can always plant the usual apple, plum, or peach. But maybe you're hankering for something different. Something exclusive, unusual, even exotic. Something that also looks great in your landscaping. If that's the case, you could be in the market for a pawpaw tree (Asimina Triloba). It produces big, almost tropical fruit that tastes like a mixture of banana and mango.
While the pawpaw is native to the east, Native Americans spread it as far west as Kansas and almost as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. They had their reasons. Pawpaw is the largest American fruit, growing up to 16 ounces. The reason you won't find this fruit in your grocery store is that it doesn't transport easily. So stores don't want to stock it. That's why people have forgotten how good this fruit is. All the more reason to grow your own.
Nutritionally, the fruit is a treasure trove. Vegans will be happy to learn that pawpaw is the only fruit with all the essential amino acids humans need. Pawpaws provide as much potassium as bananas, and 3 times the Vitamin C of apples. They also contain plenty of antioxidants.
The fruit has a creamy texture, and you can spoon out the pulp for making puddings, ice cream, sorbets, pies, and smoothies. You can even freeze it. You can bake with pawpaw pulp, using it as a substitute for bananas or applesauce in your recipes. Most people just love to pick the fruit off the tree and eat it then and there.
The pawpaw's landscaping potential is great. You could have a 20-40 foot cone-shaped tree that produces thick, heavy leaves in the spring and a rich golden color in the fall. Also, the caterpillars of Zebra Swallowtail butterflies feed exclusively on pawpaws, so your yard will have even more interesting features. Even better, deer and rabbits stay away from pawpaw trees, which are also resistant to disease.
You can sometimes find pawpaw trees for sale at nurseries. If not, you can find them online. For best results, buy at least two that are not clones or siblings for pollination. Pawpaws will not self-pollinate, and the flies and beetles that are supposed to do the job are unreliable. You may need to pollinate your trees with a small watercolor brush.
The ideal spot for a mature pawpaw is sunny, protected from the wind, and endowed with plenty of rich, well-drained soil. The seedling can't take direct sunlight for the first year or two, so you'll need to filter the sun with an open-ended barrel or some netting. After that, full sun is great.
You can start pawpaw seeds in containers with rich soil, such as Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Garden Soil. Keep them shaded, and then transplant them after a year or two. With pawpaw trees purchased at the local nursery or online just follow the instructions in our article on Planting a Fruit Tree.
There are many resources for learning more about pawpaws. A good one is the Ohio Pawpaw Growers' Association, at www.ohiopawpaw.com. This group provided the photos you see in this article.