This small, understory, flowering tree is native to the southeast portion of the United States, but will do well northward to hardiness zone 5. Since we are in zone 7 here in Chattanooga, this tree will do well here. This member of the custard apple family (Annonaceae) is the only member found in North America.
The pawpaw has huge leaves, 8-9 inches long, and only grows to a maximum height of 25-35 feet tall and a drip width of 20-25 feet. The large, pendulous fruit, which looks like a small green baking potato, comes from a very small flower (1/2” long) that ripens over the summer and early autumn. They are best harvested in mid to late autumn.
This plant needs either full sunlight (~6 hours of direct sun each day) or partial sunlight (~4 hours of sun per day). It grows best in moist, well-drained soils. It can tolerate poor drainage but not salt spray, drought conditions, or alkaline soils. This species is found growing in bottomland hardwood forests, along ravines, streams, and wooded slopes.
The pawpaw can be used in the yard as a specimen tree or as a barrier when many are planted together.
The interior fruit of the pawpaw beneath the skin is nearly creamy with a mango, slightly citrusy flavor.
This tree can provide ample shade in the summer.
The pawpaw is considered self-incompatible (the male portion of the flower cannot pollinate the female of that plant), therefore, for best growth more than one should be planted nearby.
Deer specifically avoid the leaves of the pawpaw; however, many animals including deer, foxes, opossums, and humans eat the fruit.
This tree is notoriously difficult to transplant, however, a pot-established pawpaw, such as those offered at the Reflection Riding nursery, is well on its way to growing in a healthy manner.
The pawpaw is resistant to many serious insect or disease problems.
The fruits are delicious and have the texture and taste of a ripe banana. First, select a slightly soft fruit, peel the skin off, and then eat all the contents except the dark seeds, of which there are usually eight.
Pawpaws are grown and available in the arboretum of the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.
Charlie is a retired professor and Biological Oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia System for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.
Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!