The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a wild fruit from a family of mostly tropical species. Asimina triloba evolved the ability to survive in temperate climates, while the rest of its relatives were forced to retreat to tropical regions some 5 million years ago when frosts began occurring in North America. Mastodons and ground sloths used to distribute the seeds of this fruit all over the landscape in their dung, but today wild pawpaws are limited to river and creek bottoms where occasional floods can carry the seeds of future colonies. The fruit is being cultivated, though they are impossible to find in grocery stores due to the fruit’s limited shelf life.
I’ve been curious about this fruit for decades, and last year a nice lady from Indiana kindly sent me some pawpaws in the mail. I planted 8 pawpaw seeds in pots and 32 directly in the ground. Unfortunately, I had to have a new drainfield for my septic tank installed in my backyard last January, and this probably led to the demise of my directly planted seeds.. I checked the pots in April and May and saw no pawpaw seedlings. A couple of peach trees germinated in the compost I mixed in with the potting soil, but there was no sign of the pawpaws. I gave up and stopped looking for them. In late July I happened to walk by the pots and saw they were full of weeds. I started to pull the weeds and found 5 pawpaw seedlings. Luckily, I didn’t accidentally pull any up when I was yanking out the crabgrass. Now, 2 months later, 2 of the saplings still look great, 1 looks fair, 1 looks kind of diseased, and 1 got totally chewed up by something, but I’m hoping it grows back from the stem or roots. Supposedly, pawpaws have few insect pests, but I know this is not true.
Photo of 5 pawpaw saplings and 2 peach tree saplings that germinated early this summer. The tall saplings are the peach trees.
I don’t know how long it will take for the pawpaws to bear fruit (if ever). I’m also growing a dozen or so peach trees from seeds that germinated in compost. They can produce fruit in as little as 3 years, but I’m guessing the pawpaws will take quite a bit longer.