Definitions

nectariferous

Pawpaw

[paw-paw]
This page refers to the U.S. pawpaw in the genus Asimina. In some other parts of the world the name pawpaw is applied to the unrelated tropical fruit papaya (Carica papaya).

Pawpaw (Asimina) is a genus of eight or nine species of small trees with large leaves and fruit, native to eastern North America. The genus includes the largest edible fruit indigenous to the continent. They are understory trees found in deep fertile bottomland and hilly upland habitat. Pawpaw is in the same family (Annonaceae) as the custard-apple, cherimoya, sweetsop, ylang-ylang and soursop, and it is the only member of that family not confined to the tropics.

Names

The name, also spelled paw paw, paw-paw, and papaw, probably derives from the Spanish papaya, perhaps due to the superficial similarity of their fruit. Pawpaw has numerous other common names, often very local, such as prairie banana, Indiana (Hoosier) banana, West Virginia banana, Kentucky banana, Michigan banana, Missouri Banana, and Ozark banana.

Description

The pawpaws are shrubs or small trees, reaching heights of 2 to 12 m tall. The northern, cold-tolerant common pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is deciduous, while the southern species are often evergreen.

The leaves are alternate, simple ovate, entire, 20 to 35 cm long and 10 to 15 cm broad.

The fetid flowers are produced singly or in clusters of up to eight together; they are large, 4 to 6 cm across, perfect, with six sepals and petals (three large outer petals, three smaller inner petals). The petal color varies from white to purple or red-brown.

The fruit is a large edible berry, 5 to 16 cm long and 3 to 7 cm broad, weighing from 20 to 500 g, with numerous seeds; it is green when unripe, maturing to yellow or brown. It has a flavor somewhat similar to both banana and mango, varying significantly by cultivar, and has more protein than most fruits.

  • Bark: Dark brown, blotched with gray spots, sometimes covered with small excrescences, divided by shallow fissures. Inner bark tough, fibrous. Branchlets light brown, tinged with red, marked by shallow grooves.
  • Wood: Pale, greenish yellow, sapwood lighter; light, soft, coarse-grained and spongy. Sp. gr., 0.3969; weight of cu. ft. 24.74 lbs.
  • Winter buds: Small, brown, acuminate, hairy.
  • Leaves: Alternate, simple, feather-veined, obovate-lanceolate, ten to twelve inches long, four to five broad, wedge-shaped at base, entire, acute at apex; midrib and primary veins prominent. They come out of the bud conduplicate, green, covered with rusty tomentum beneath, hairy above; when full grown are smooth, dark green above, paler beneath. In autumn they are a rusty yellow. Petioles short and stout with a prominent adaxial groove. Stipules wanting.
  • Flowers: April, with the leaves. Perfect, solitary, axillary, rich red purple, two inches across, borne on stout, hairy peduncles. Ill smelling.
  • Calyx: Sepals three, valvate in bud, ovate, acuminate, pale green, downy.
  • Corolla: Petals six, in two rows, imbricate in the bud. Inner row acute, erect, nectariferous. Outer row broadly ovate, reflexed at maturity. Petals at first are green, then brown, and finally become dull purple and conspicuously veiny.
  • Stamens: Indefinite, densely packed on the globular receptacle. Filaments short; anthers extrorse, two-celled, opening longitudinally.
  • Pistils: Several, on the summit of the receptacle, projecting from the mass of stamens. Ovary one-celled; stigma sessile; ovules many.
  • Fruit: September, October. Cotyledons broad, five-lobed.

Cultivation

Pollinated by scavenging carrion flies and beetles, the flowers emit a weak scent which attracts few pollinators, thus limiting fruit production.

Larger growers sometimes locate rotting meat near the trees at bloom time to increase the number of blowflies. Asimina triloba is the only larval host of the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly.

Species

Cultivation and uses

The pawpaw's chosen home is in the shade of the rich bottom lands of the Mississippi valley, where it often forms a dense undergrowth in the forest. Where it dominates a tract it appears as a thicket of small slender trees, whose great leaves are borne so close together at the ends of the branches, and which cover each other so symmetrically, that the effect is to give a peculiar imbricated appearance to the tree.

Although it is a delicious and nutritious fruit, it has never been cultivated on the scale of apples and peaches, primarily because it does not store or ship well. It is also difficult to transplant due to its long taproot. Cultivars are propagated by chip budding or whip grafting.

In recent years the pawpaw has attracted renewed interest, particularly among organic growers, as a native fruit which has few pests, and which therefore requires little pesticide use for cultivation. The shipping and storage problem has largely been addressed by pulping the fruit and freezing the pulp. Among backyard gardeners it also is gaining in popularity because of the appeal of fresh fruit and because it is relatively low maintenance once planted. The pulp is used primarily in baked dessert recipes, as well as for brewing pawpaw beer. In many recipes calling for bananas, pawpaw can be used with volumetric equivalency.

The commercial growing and harvesting of pawpaws is strongest in southeast Ohio. The Ohio Pawpaw Growers' Association annually sponsors the Ohio Pawpaw Festival at Lake Snowden near Albany, Ohio.

The flowers are self-incompatible, requiring cross pollination; at least two different varieties of the plant are needed as pollenizers. The flowers produce an odor similar to that of rotting meat to attract blowflies or carrion beetles for cross pollination. Lack of pollination is the most common cause of poor fruiting, and growers resort to hand pollination or to hanging chicken necks or other meat to attract pollinators.

The leaves, twigs, and bark of the tree also contain natural insecticides known as acetogenins, which can be used to make an organic pesticide. Pawpaw fruit may be eaten by foxes, possums, squirrels and raccoons. However, pawpaw leaves and twigs are seldom bothered by rabbits or deer.

This colonial tree has a strong tendency to form colonial thickets if left unchecked.

History

The earliest documentation of pawpaws is in the 1541 report of the de Soto expedition, who found Native Americans cultivating it east of the Mississippi River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition depended and sometimes subsisted on pawpaws during their travels. Chilled pawpaw fruit was a favorite dessert of George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson was certainly familiar with it as he planted it at Monticello. In 2006, following lobbying by the Ohio Pawpaw Growers' Association, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a law that would have declared the pawpaw to be the state native fruit of Ohio. However, the Ohio Senate failed to act on the bill, resulting in its death.

Medicinal properties

Growers hope that potential medical use will eventually lead to increased market demand from the pharmaceutical industry.

The seeds also have insecticidal properties. The Native Americans dried and powdered them and applied the powder to children's heads to control lice; specialized shampoos now use compounds from pawpaw for the same purpose.

References

External links

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