Botanical Name: Asimina triloba
Common Name: Pawpaw, Custard Apple, Wild Banana, Common Pawpaw, Indian Banana
Description: Pawpaws prefer the moist, deep, rich soils of the bottomlands of the Pineywoods, Gulf Prairies and Marshes, and Post Oak Savannah of East Texas. They are also native to Louisiana and the Southeast. Pawpaw’s leaves are up to 6″ wide and 12″ long, among the largest of any tree in America. They are alternate and simple and turn a rich butter yellow in autumn before dropping. The drooping flowers are 2″ across and brownish to maroon red. They smell like rotting meat to attract the flies and beetles that pollinate them. The fruit is a banana-shaped berry (pawpaw) which might be up to 6″ long. The fruit is the largest of any fruit native to North America. Pawpaws are edible in the fall after they have turned brownish and become soft. Pawpaw’s tropical appearance makes it an interesting tree for home landscaping. It resembles its exotic relatives in the magnolia family with its oversized leaves, rich flowers, sweet fruit, and aromatic foliage. It grows at a medium rate of 13-24″ per year after becoming established. Grows 10-40′ tall x 20- wide into either a small, short-trunked tree or a large, multi-stemmed shrub with a refined pyramidal form.
Doesn’t tolerate standing water. Likes to grow in rich, moist, slightly acid soils, but isn’t particular about soil type: Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay. High deer resistance.
They grow best if planted in an area where they will get shade the first 2-3 years (like an understory tree), then grow into the sun as they mature. If that isn’t possible in your garden, then morning sun/afternoon shade is best.
Host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly and the Pawpaw Sphinx Moth.
Bees do not pollinate the pawpaw flowers. Flies and beetles are the main pollinators. The flowers smell somewhat like rotten meat to attract them. Commercial growers of pawpaws sometimes hang roadkill animals close to the trees to help attract the pollinators!
Pawpaws do not self-pollinate, and they need pawpaws that are genetically different to pollinate each other. My pawpaws are grown from seeds collected from separate colonies in the East Texas woods around my supplier’s nursery. Which means they will all pollinate each other just fine. If you want good fruit production, you’ll need two pawpaws within 100′ feet of each other. Seeding trees will produce in 4 to 7 years. My 1-gallon trees are 1-3 years old, 3-gallon trees are 3-4 years old.
The banana-custard-like flavor/texture of pawpaw fruits leads many to consider it to be the best tasting fruit available (George Washington was a huge fan). However, once the pawpaw fruit is picked it begins to self-ferment almost immediately, making it unsuitable for shipping or selling in stores. They must be eaten right after harvesting or quickly turned into jam or jelly. Possums, squirrels, raccoons, and birds eat the fruit.
This plant in 1-gallon containers is 1-2′ tall x 1-2′ wide, not including the container. They are 1-3 years old.
This plant in 3-gallon containers is 2-4′ tall x 1-2′ wide, not including the container. They are 3-4 years old.
Interesting Tidbit: The fruits are used in pies or desserts and taste like custard, giving the species one of its common names, “custard-apple.” The large pawpaw seeds actually do contain several insecticidal compounds and certain Native Americans used the powdered seeds to control lice. These seeds are still used in several over-the-counter lice treatments. The name Common Pawpaw is from the Arawakan name of Papaya, an unrelated tropical American fruit.
Hardiness Zones 5 – 8