Sunday, July 6, 2014

We got Paw Paws, Paw!

Paw Paw blossoms in early May.

Aren't they lovely?  Kind of a russet maroon, little bells hanging on my Paw Paw (Asimina triloba).  Michael Dirr, one of the plant propagation gurus - whose book I relied on during my horticultural grad work - described Paw Paw blossoms as "lurid purple", which they never, ever deserved.  I think he also slanders the blossoms as having a "fetid" odor.  Ack.

Lurid purple, indeed. HA.  (And I've never noticed that much of an odor at all.  Although, in all fairness, by the time I've whacked my way to the back forty orchard where the Paw Paws are, I probably smell pretty fetid myself.)

I never see any insects pollinating them but they do indeed seem to get pollinated, especially now that the clump's getting bigger.  Interestingly, Paw Paw blossoms start out as "female" and then develop into "male" blossoms as the pollen develops on the anthers.  (For an informative and humorous look at Paw Paw pollination and Paw Paw propagation in Florida, go here: )

I love Paw Paws.  I love the fruit.  I love planting them for the beautiful, beleaguered Zebra Swallowtail butterflies (Eurytides marcellus). Paw Paw foliage is the only food for their larva.

The only substantial native stands of Paw Paws locally are in the Great Dismal Swamp.  Two spring-times ago, biking the Dismal Swamp Canal bike path in the early morning sun, so many Zebra Swallowtails swirled around me that I had to stop my bicycle to keep them from being injured by the spokes of the wheels.  They had come to lay their eggs on the Paw Paw trees scattered amid the swamp foliage.
I don't begrudge the butterfly caterpillars a bite of my trees, in fact, I'm kind of depressed that I don't get more of the butterflies laying eggs on my Paw Paw trees.  I've even planted the beautiful orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) you see here in Dave Govoni's photo from the Chesapeake Bay website.  Well, actually the milkweed is for both the adult Zebra Swallowtails who feed on its flowers and the larval Monarch butterflies for whom the milkweed foliage is their only host food.  

FYI: Field report: so far, no Monarchs OR Zebra Swallowtails seen here this summer.  
Very concerning. 
Anyone else seeing more encouraging signs of our local butterflies?

However, I'm happy to report that I have PAW PAW fruits in progress. 

I had to take a picture because to this day, we've never gotten to see, hold or eat a ripe fruit.  Blossoms, check.  Immature green fruits, check.

Ripe fruit?  GONE. Every year. 

I need a better plan....


  1. How big are your trees? I've been looking at getting a couple cause you have to have two right?

  2. Hi, Amanda! My pawpaws are about 6 years old and about 12' high. You really do need more than one, although you can get really tricky with hand pollinating (Ha!). You should plant some. They are great! There's a really good info webpage provided by Peterson Pawpaws nursery (you heard it here first): I'd love to have some of his hybrids but, anticipating a move in our near future, I'm not adding plants to the farm gardens. I really love that Neal Peterson has hybridized his own pawpaw selections - no factory farming here! Check it out!

  3. Hi Sybil! I hope to some day plant pawpaws as well. I see them often when working in the field, and occasionally see developing fruit, but the ripe fruit is apparently quickly devoured by wildlife. I did get to sample them once, maybe four years ago. When they were ripe, that entire section of forest smelled fruity! No wonder they get devoured!

  4. Laura, it's so true! They smell heavenly and they really are delicious. I never see them in markets, do you? There was apparently "some old guy" in Norfolk (maybe Ocean View?) who had a collection of pawpaws. A friend brought me fruits in hope we could get the seeds started because his property was being sold and the collection lost. I gobbled down the pawpaw fruits, saved the seed - and somewhere in the barn/potting shed and greenhouses, they were lost. Phoo. I was so frustrated. Never did backtrack to find the original gardener. My loss!

  5. No, I've never seen them for sale either. I've read that they don't keep well? I've also read the seed needs to be planted fresh (or stratified fresh) in order to germinate.

  6. Yep, that's how I came by my Pawpaw fruits - so I'd have the fresh seeds to plant. Laura, drive out here if you want to "adopt" two baby pawpaw trees that have come up on their own next to the parents.

  7. Thanks for the offer, Sybil! I may just do that, perhaps when the summer heat abates a bit. I recently read that the suckers don't transplant well, so we might want to try root pruning them a bit first.


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