About the Paw paw

WHat are Paw paws?

What is a paw paw? The American Paw paw, not to be confused with the papaya or papaw, is not very well known but is one of America’s best-kept secrets when it comes to unique and flavorful fruits. Also known simply as paw paw, this fruit hails from the paw paw tree, a small deciduous tree native to the eastern regions of North America. Revered by Native American tribes and cherished by early European settlers, the paw paw has a rich history dating back centuries, yet it remains relatively obscure in the modern world. The increasing interest in these fruits has sparked a resurgence in its popularity, breathing new life into an age-old secret of American horticulture.

The fruit boasts a wealth of essential nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium, iron, and potassium. Its relatively low caloric content and healthful properties have made it a favored addition to balanced diets. Its taste has been described as a fusion of tropical sensations, with hints of banana, mango, and melon. The custard-like texture sets the fruit apart from the more commonplace apple or orange, offering a culinary adventure for those fortunate enough to get their hands on the fruit.

Perry Paw Paws has been growing the fruit for many years, and is the one of two licensed facilities in Michigan to grow and sell paw paws. Get in touch with us or visit our online store to learn more or get started with your own seedlings.

What is a Paw Paw?

Paw paw fruits, also known simply as paw paws, are the edible fruits native to North America (also known as Asimina triloba). The trees are small, deciduous trees that grow in rich, well-drained soil in the eastern United States and Canada. They typically produce the fruit in the fall, and the fruits are ripe when they are soft and yellow-brown. They are the largest edible fruit indigenous to the United States, and they have a sweet, tropical flavor that is often described as a cross between banana, mango, and pineapple.

Paw paw fruits are a relatively new addition to the mainstream food market, but they are gaining popularity due to their unique flavor and nutritional benefits. If you are looking for a delicious and healthy fruit to try, the American paw paw is a great choice. The fruits are a good source of antioxidants, which can help to protect the body against damage from free radicals. The fruits are best enjoyed fresh, and there are numerous recipes that incorporate them into desserts, smoothies, and other culinary creations. If you ever come across fresh paw paw fruits, consider giving them a try for their unique taste and cultural significance in North American history.

Ripening pawpaw fruits on a tree. Image taken by Perry Pawpaws/Perry Permaculture.
The fruit is a large, greenish-yellow to brownish color, with a custard-like texture and a flavor often compared to a combination of banana, mango, and melon. The fruit is oblong in shape and can be up to 6 inches long. It contains several large seeds.

Where Can Paw Paw Trees Grow?

Paw paws can be grown in specific regions of the United States and Canada that have suitable climate conditions for their cultivation. While they are native to eastern North America, their range extends beyond their native habitat due to cultivation and a recent increase of interest in growing them.

  • Eastern United States: Paw paws are most commonly found in the eastern states, particularly in the following states:
    • Mid-Atlantic: States like Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware.
    • Ohio Valley: Including Ohio, Kentucky, and parts of Indiana.
    • Southeast: States like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama.
  • Upper Midwest, USA: Some parts of the upper Midwest, such as Michigan, Illinois, and southern Wisconsin, have suitable conditions for growing.
  • Gulf Coast, USA: In the southern regions along the Gulf of Mexico, including parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, the trees can be grown with the right cultivation and environment.
  • Southern Ontario, Canada: Paw paws can be grown in the southernmost parts of Ontario, Canada, where the climate is relatively milder.

It’s important to note that paw paw trees require specific conditions for successful growth. They thrive in rich, well-drained soils and prefer areas with sufficient moisture, especially during the growing season. Paw paws typically grow in forest understory or along riverbanks, where they benefit from dappled sunlight rather than full sun exposure. In regions where the winters are extremely cold (like Michigan, Wisconsin & Canada), growing paw paws may face challenges due to frost damage. However, some cultivation methods have been developed to allow these trees to withstand harsher winter conditions.

Paw paw saplings being grown in a climate-controlled greenhouse. Image taken by Perry Pawpaws/Perry Permaculture.
The leaves of the tree are large, simple, and alternate. They are oblong in shape, typically around 8 to 12 inches long, and have a distinct tropical appearance, with a dark green color and a waxy texture.
Rows of mature paw paw trees in a grassy field. Image taken by Perry Pawpaws/Perry Permaculture.
The trees are small to medium-sized, typically growing to heights of 15 to 30 feet (4.5 to 9 meters) although they can sometimes reach up to 40 feet (12 meters).
Paw paw seedlings being grown in a climate-controlled greenhouse. Image taken by Perry Pawpaws/Perry Permaculture.
When growing your own trees, they prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soils and can tolerate partial shade but typically produce more fruit in full sun.

Are There Health Benefits of the Paw Paw Fruit?

Incorporating paw paw fruit into your diet can offer several potential health benefits, based on traditional knowledge and some scientific research. While research on paw paws is somewhat limited compared to more commonly studied fruits, it is known to contain various vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that contribute to its potential health advantages. Many health companies have developed unique health products and solutions in recent years as well. Some health benefits include:

Heart Health – Potassium, an essential mineral found in the fruit, is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and proper fluid balance. Consuming potassium-rich foods as part of a balanced diet may contribute to heart health.

Rich in Nutrients – The fruit is a good source of essential nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, potassium, and dietary fiber. These nutrients are crucial for maintaining overall health, supporting the immune system, and promoting proper bodily functions.

Digestive Health – It is a good source of dietary fiber, which supports digestive health by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. Fiber also helps regulate cholesterol levels and supports gut microbiome health.

Weight Management – The fruit is relatively low in calories and contains dietary fiber, which can contribute to feelings of fullness and help with weight management when incorporated into a balanced diet.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Some studies suggest that certain compounds found in the fruit may possess anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation can be beneficial in managing chronic inflammatory conditions and overall well-being.

Can I Grow My Own Paw Paw Tree?

Yes, you can definitely grow your own paw paw tree! Growing the trees can be a rewarding but somewhat unique endeavor. These trees have specific requirements and growth patterns, so it’s a good idea to determine whether you have a suitable area to grow. Another point to consider is the wait – paw paw trees can take several years to start producing fruit, usually around 4 to 8 years after planting. It is important to be patient and provide consistent care over the years.

Growing paw paw trees requires careful attention to their specific growing conditions and a bit of patience. The trees are well-suited to the eastern United States, primarily in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. They prefer regions with a temperate climate, experiencing cold winters and warm summers. While they can tolerate a range of soil types, well-drained, slightly acidic to neutral soils are ideal. The trees also thrive in partial shade to filtered sunlight, especially during their early years. Young trees benefit from protection against direct, intense sunlight, which can stress and scorch their leaves. As they mature, they can handle more sunlight.

Paw paw trees require consistent moisture, especially during their first few years of growth. Water deeply and regularly to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Mulching around the base of the tree helps retain soil moisture. An important note is that the trees are not self-pollinating. Cross-pollination between different paw paw trees is essential for fruit production. Plant at least two genetically distinct trees in close proximity to ensure successful pollination. Flowering times may vary between varieties, so choose trees with overlapping bloom periods.

Looking to get started? Check out the Perry Paw Paws online store to view our current products. You can also contact us to learn more about growing requirements and discuss if your area is suitable to support the process.

Where Can I Buy Paw Paw Fruit?

Finding fresh fruits can be a bit challenging, as they are not as widely available as more common fruits. This is mostly due to the unique growing conditions needed and the short shelf life of the fruit. Additionally, paw paw trees have not been extensively cultivated on a commercial scale.

Depending on your location, you can explore a few options to purchase paw paw fruits which include:

  • Local Farmers’ Markets: Check farmers’ markets in your area, especially during harvesting season, which is during the month of September in Michigan.
  • Specialty Grocery Stores: Some specialty or gourmet grocery stores might carry the fruits when they are in season.
  • Local Orchards or Nurseries: Orchards or nurseries that promote the growing of these fruit trees may sell fresh fruits during the season. As a local orchard, Perry Paw Paws cultivates and sells seedlings that allow you to grow your own trees.

If you do find the fruit, try to choose ones that are slightly soft to the touch and have a sweet aroma, indicating ripeness. Since paw paw fruits have a short shelf life when ripe, plan to consume or use them shortly after purchase.

Ripe pawpaw fruits. Image taken by Perry Pawpaws/Perry Permaculture.
A large amount of fruits. They need to be handled with care and consumed quickly, as they are delicate and have a short shelf live after harvesting.