Posts Tagged ‘sunflower pawpaw’

Pawpaws, Favored Fruit of the Mastodons Part II

September 7, 2012

One of the first essays I ever wrote for this blog was about the pawpaw (Asimina triloba), a tree from a mostly tropical family of plants that grows and produces fruit in the temperate regions of North America.  Some paleoecologists speculate that the pawpaw has a more localized distribution today than it did during the Pleistocene because the fruit seed is no longer spread across the uplands in the dung of now extinct megafauna such as mastodons and ground sloths.  It’s mostly found in moist river bottomlands where floodwaters distribute the fruit seed.  I’ve been wanting to taste a pawpaw for probably close to 30 years, but I never found any growing in Augusta, Georgia.  I did find some in Congaree National Park, but the fruit was not ripe yet.  So I offered a free copy of my book, Georgia Before People, to anyone who sent me some pawpaw fruit or seed.  It took a couple of years, but someone was kind enough to respond and send me 5 pawpaws.

Supposed range map of the pawpaw (Asimina triloba).  In 1970 the Mango variety of pawpaw was found from a wild tree growing in Tifton, Georgia, significantly south of what this map indicates.  Charles Wharton reported pawpaws were common in the alluvial and colluvial woods of the upper piedmont where water can carry the fruit seed.


Indiana pawpaws shipped to Augusta, Georgia.

Each pawpaw had an average of 8 seeds.  I planted 9 seeds in pots.  After I used all of my available pots I  planted the rest directly in the ground.

One of the pawpaws was overripe and fell apart during shipping but the rest were perfectly ripe.  They taste very sweet and have the texture of a cooked sweet potato.  The aroma is faintly tropical.  It is an outstanding worthwhile fruit, considering the ones I ate were from uncultivated trees.  Uncultivated apples and pears by comparison are usually so poor in quality they are practically inedible.  Some horticulturalists are attempting to cultivate new varieties of pawpaws.  The main obstacle they face is the inability of the ripe fruit to keep for long enough to store in warehouses and ship.  I think there are now well over 20 cultivated varieties, including Sunflower which has orange flesh, and Mango from a wild tree found in Tifton, Georgia.  Photos from promoters of pawpaws show them split open and they suggest spooning out the flesh.  I found it easier to bite into them and spit out the seeds–the skin is edible.

Pawpaws are far more nutritious than bananas, apples, and oranges.  They have a complete protein which is unusual for a plant food.  They also have a high amount of monounsaturated fat–the healthy kind.  Their sugar content provides a balance with the fat and protein, making them an almost perfect complete food.  They are extremely high in Vitamin C, magnesium pottassium, and other minerals and have a decent amount of B vitamins and calcium.  Pioneers living in the woods of North America could have subsisted entirely on pawpaws from late August to early October–the season ripe pawpaws are available.  Some pioneers homesteading in cabins within mesic woods wandered through great stands of pawpaw trees and gathered the fruit in baskets while out hunting for their family’s supper.  When they sat down to eat a supper of pawpaws, they were enjoying a fruit that may have been eaten by dinosaurs.  50 million year old pawpaw fossils, dating to the Eocene, have been excavated in Mississippi.  It’s likely pawpaws or a related species are older than that and predate the K-T impact.