Sep. 2019 Conservation Update: Pawpaw Trees

By Dave Keane

As fall approaches and you are out on your local stream, you may wonder what is that tropical looking tree with all the fruit hanging on it. It’s one of nature’s best kept secrets, the Pawpaw tree.

Here are some quick facts on the Pawpaw tree:

  • Native deciduous tree with leaves that can grow up to 12 inches in length which gives it a tropical appearance.
  • Look for Pawpaws in the understory and forest edges along floodplains and streams throughout the eastern states. The trees often create dense thickets or Pawpaw patches.
  • In the spring, the trees produce very interesting maroon flowers that are turned downward and pollinated by flies and beetles.
  • Backyard gardeners and fruit enthusiasts will be happy to know that the tree is resistant to deer browse.
  • Leaves are the sole food source for the Zebra Swallowtail caterpillar.
    The Pawpaw tree is the largest native edible fruit in North America.

Pawpaws ripen in the fall and the fruit should be soft to the touch and give little. The fruit will also have a very nice fruity aroma. Inside the fruit is filled with a yellow soft creamy custard tasting pulp combined with large flat shiny seeds. Pawpaws can be eaten fresh, made into bread, preserves and even ice cream.

Andrew Moore, author of the book: PawPaw In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, provides a great recipe for Pawpaw ice cream:

  • 2 cups pawpaw pulp (more, if you have it)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups cream
  • 2 cups milk

Combine the pawpaw and sugar. Stir in the cream and milk. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according the manufacturer’s directions.

Pawpaw foragers are very secretive and much like morel hunters, so if you find a patch, be careful who you tell!