|A nice clump of pawpaws nearing ripening under their huge, tropical-looking leaves.|
North America's largest indigenous fruit is the Pawpaw, Asimina triloba, each attaining 3-6 inches in length when ripe. They are in the Custard-apple family Annonaceae, this genus being the Northern most members of this mostly tropical family. Like the Annonas and Cherimoyas I've eaten in Latin America, these too are quite edible. Their flavor is hard to describe, the consistency being like a banana, some people thinking they taste a bit like them, others comparing them to mangos and papayas. I don't think any of those is completely accurate though.
|The Pawpaw is North America's largest indigenous fruit and the cold hardiest member of the custard-apple family.|
|Flowers bloom when the leaves are still small and emerging.|
|The flower seen from underneath.|
Fruit set is often not very reliable. Not only do you need to attract unusual pollinators, but it is also believed that they are self-incompatible. Most of their reproduction is via suckers sprouting from the roots to grow a new tree. That means that a pawpaw patch may be all the same plant, all clones from the suckering roots. So you need pollen to be brought in from outside sources and you may get poor fruit set even with lots of flowers and a large colony of them. I've tried to hand pollinate them from the same clump and have not had good results.
This, along with that the seeds may need 2-3 cold stratification periods (2-3 winters typically in the wild) to germinate, as well as that the fruits bruise and get over ripe easily, have made commercial production of this extremely cold hardy fruit problematic. People have tried (there's even a Pawpaw Foundation in Maryland trying to get commercial varieties that store and ship better) to make a business out of these, but have not often been successful. I've even heard of some people trying to keep orchards of pawpaw and hanging rotten meat when the trees are in bloom in the hopes of getting the right pollinators.
|The flesh is soft and delicious, but does not store well and has large seeds.|
The fruits also have a slight laxative effect, so take care how many you eat. A fellow naturalist related to me how he took scouts overnight camping one time and let them discover the joys of eating pawpaws. He warned them to just eat one or two apiece, but some of them, liking the pawpaws so much, harvested many more for use as night snacks, with predictable results.
|The large fruits have large seeds. Here's a handful from a single fruit.|
|Pawpaws have a golden Fall color, though the trees are short, they grow clumped together making for a showy look.|
|Pawpaw buds are hairy, which along with the smooth gray bark (sometimes a bit warty on bigger trees) make them fairly easy to identify even in winter.|
|The trunk of a Banango showing the start of the warts and bumps large specimen end up getting.|
|The Michigan Banana is the sole larval host (food plant) for the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly in our region. Here several males are puddling collecting salts and minerals.|