The pawpaw, Asimina triloba, belongs to the Annonaceae or the Custard Apple family which are widespread throughout the tropics. The pawpaw is the only member of this family to be found in the temperate regions of North America. It is a native plant that reaches as far north as Southern New York and New England. In nature, it is a small understory tree. It will grow to about ten feet tall when given sunlight and space. Pawpaws like well-drained soil. They need only moderate soil fertility. They are most productive in full sun, but will tolerate some shade.
The pawpaw tree produces an oblong fruit that weighs six to twelve ounces. The fruit has a deep yellow, creamy textured flesh, and a taste described as a cross between a banana, mango, and pineapple. It contains large seeds that are easily removed. The fruit has a thin skin that is green when immature and turns a light green to yellowish color when mature. They mature over several weeks starting at the end of August through September. The true indicator of when a fruit is ready to pick is that it will feel soft when gently squeezed. Pawpaw fruit needs to be eaten within a few days of harvest.
The pawpaw flowers are pollinated by flies, not bees. Fruit production can be erratic from year to year. This makes them a tough crop to grow on a commercial scale. Reports are that deer do not prefer to eat pawpaw trees or the fruit. Birds and other forest animals will feed on ripe pawpaw fruit.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent, Carl Cantaluppi has been testing new pawpaw varieties that have been crossed by Mr. Neal Peterson. They are all named after rivers. Carl evaluated four varieties: Allegheny, Shenandoah, Susquehanna, and Potomac. All the new varieties performed well although Allegheny averaged a little smaller fruit size. It took four years after planting to get the first fruit. If you would like to grow a truly unique fruit, try pawpaw.