Grow your own ‘way down yonder’
Story by Clara A. Curtis
This tree catches my eye every season. Planted in full sun, pawpaws develop a beautiful shape and exhibit beautiful gray bark and long slender oblong leaves that are two-tone green in summer and golden yellow in fall. Springtime brings odd, smelly, lurid purple flowers with uneven petals that are whorled close to the main stems. The fruits, sometimes called custard apples, are edible and many animals – raccoons in particular – love them. They have a fragrant smell of banana and pear and soft mango-like flesh high in vitamins A, C, K, P, magnesium, and potassium.
A children’s song features the line, “way down yonder in the pawpaw patch,” which likely refers to the growth pattern of some trees that will colonize an area creating a grove. Fruit is often harvested after it falls to the ground. Although hard to transplant and perhaps hard to find in nurseries, this native fruit tree is worth tracking down.
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Pawpaw
Botanical Name: Asimina triloba
Cultivars: There are multiple cultivars but they may be hard to find. The top three are ‘Davis’, ‘Sunflower’, and ‘Overleese’ that all bear 3-6-inch-long fruit.
Color: Leaves are a medium green on top and lighter underneath and 4-8 inches long and 1-3 inches wide. They turn a beautiful golden yellow in fall with some light green remaining on the undersides. Flowers are dark reddish purple, appearing almost black when viewed against a clear sky. Fruit are greenish yellow.
Blooming Period: Summer (June) on previous year’s wood
Type: Deciduous tree or multi-stemmed shrub
Size: 15-20 feet tall with similar spread
Exposure: Sun or shade; primarily an understory tree in the wild.
USDA Hardiness Zone(s): 5-8
When to Plant: In spring from seed stratified (60 days) and germinated in the fall in moist sand in a greenhouse. This tree may also be grown by starts from root cuttings or layering.
Soil: Fertile, moist, slightly acid
Watering: Water well to establish – once a week for up to one year.
When to Prune: This tree needs little to no pruning other than to establish shape and remove dead limbs.