Printer Friendly

The lure of Michigan bananas: roadside farm market has high demand for pawpaws.


Imagine a fruit as tropical and exotic as the banana that's hardy in northern zones and as naturally pest resistant as it is delicious and nutritious. You may think awhile and conclude that this fruit simply doesn't exist, but at my family's Magicland Farm we grow many types and varieties of fruits and vegetables, and our homegrown banana-like pawpaws are among the most popular. We don't grow the pawpaws in greenhouses or solariums. Rather, they are grown outside, and while their DNA is composed of genes that evolved in the tropics, pawpaw trees survive with ease in temperatures that drop below zero.

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) belongs to the tropical custard apple family, which includes delights such as sweetsop, soursop, cherimoya and, of course, the custard apple, which is the botanical family's namesake. Pawpaws are also locally known as Michigan Bananas, Hoosier Bananas, and Insert-state-wherethey-are-native Bananas because their flavor, and in some ways their texture, is reminiscent of the grocery store variety banana.

Germinating an interest

Many years ago, I read Euell Gibbons' book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and when I got to the chapter on papaws (Gibbons' spelling). I felt tingles travel from my toes to my neck. What I read indicated that the pawpaw tree was unusual, it bore delicious fruit that wasn't bothered by bugs or disease, and--perhaps most intriguing of all--it was really a tropical tree that somehow wound up with enough toughness to grow wild in northern states.

After learning that the pawpaw was native to Michigan (and the range from northern Florida to southern Ontario, and as far west as eastern Nebraska to east Texas), I kept an eye out for it every time I took a walk or drove through a forested area. I looked for years without success. Then one warm mid-October day, when my dad and I were hiking along the banks of Michigan's Muskegon River looking for a good place to fish, I unknowingly walked right into the middle of a thicket of pawpaw trees. That was truly an exciting day.

The next day, thoughts of fishing faded from my mind, but I still headed back to the river. This time with a camera and (yes, I confess) a shovel. I used a roll of film on the pawpaw trees, and then calmly dug up an 18-inch-high root sucker from the big pawpaw patch. My only excuse is that I was young and naive.

After moving that bootlegged pawpaw around a bit (and no, it wasn't to avoid the law), I finally gave it a permanent home at our Magicland Farms. That now33-foot-tall tree has plenty of company, including some grafted named varieties, and in my opinion it produces fruit of the highest quality. I've since named the variety "Newaygo" because the parent tree was located within the city limits of Newaygo, Michigan.

Pawpaw farming

When I started planting pawpaws on my farm, I thought that someday I might sell pawpaws at a farm market. At the time, few had heard of pawpaws, so I felt it would be a good challenge to my sales talents.

I was wrong. It turned out to be more of a challenge to my patience. The demand for my pawpaws quickly exceeded supply, and I've been trying to catch up ever since.

People like pawpaws

Pawpaws are highly nourishing, and many folks find the fruit to be delicious. The yellowish flesh of a perfectly ripened pawpaw is reminiscent of a sweet homemade pudding with natural banana flavor, a bit of pineapple juice, and a pinch of vanilla extract thrown into the mix. Some claim they also detect a hint of mango. In fact, one variety of pawpaw was given the name "Mango." While most pawpaws have a yellowish flesh, sometimes you will come across a variety with white flesh. In my opinion, the yellowish flesh varieties are sweeter and more flavorful than the white-fleshed types.

An unripe pawpaw is usually dark green, turning lighter green or yellowish-green as it ripens, and then turning brown or even black as it softens. I've read books, articles and internet blogs that mention waiting for pawpaw fruit to turn an unappetizing black, with its flesh a pudding-like consistency, before eating. I like pawpaws best when about 5 percent to 15 percent of their skin has turned from a light greenish-yellow to a light brown and their flesh retains a bit of firmness. I also use my sense of smell to determine ripeness. If a warm pawpaw doesn't have a distinctive odor when held close to the nose, it probably isn't ripe. And like most fruit, pawpaws are best picked when ripe. In Michigan, pawpaws ripen from mid-September through mid-October. If they are picked in August, they aren't at all tasty, no matter how long they sit in a fruit bowl.

Prediction of a pawpaw-filled future

I believe the pawpaw will become one of the most popular native fruits to be commercially grown in the United States, and that it will someday approach the popularity of the blueberry--another native fruit that at the beginning of the 20th century was only harvested from the wild. Also, I truly believe that currently the pawpaw is the best native fruit tree to plant in home gardens throughout much of this country because it has great taste, is especially rich in many minerals (magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese), and has amino acids that are hard to find in other fruit. It is also an attractive, clean tree with large, tropical-looking leaves that turn a gorgeous pure-yellow in the fall. A really big benefit for the home garden is that pawpaws don't require the use of pesticides to obtain nearly perfect fruit.


Personally, I have only two regrets regarding my pawpaw plantings. The first regret goes back many years to when I dug up that tiny root sprout without permission. The second regret is even greater: I should have started planting pawpaw trees sooner than I did!

For more information on pawpaws, including several recipes, visit Kentucky State University's informative website on pawpaws at



Pawpaws are quite hardy, and strains native to the northern part of their range, from Nebraska through Michigan and into southwestern Ontario, Canada, are able to withstand temperatures down to minus 25. It is doubtful that strains from the Deep South are this hardy.

Pawpaws do not do well in areas that have low humidity, strong winds or cool marine climates. They do best when planted in rich, well-drained soil in a location protected from wind. Pawpaws are normally found in wooded areas and often form dense thickets. Although the pawpaw trees that get the most sun usually produce the most fruit, when the trees are small they should be protected from intense sunlight. Planting them about five to 10 feet from the north side of a house, garage or similar building is often ideal. If you plant pawpaw trees in the open, they should be protected from direct sun for at least the first two years.

You can grow pawpaws from seeds or transplants. Seeds tend to be cheaper. Just plant three to five seeds 1 to 2 inches deep in the fall, in a permanent location. If you wish to plant the seeds in the spring, make sure they have gone through a 3- to 4-month cold period (stratification) before planting.

The downside with planting pawpaw seeds is that you won't know a tree's qualities until it starts bearing fruit. To overcome this, you can choose grafted trees. One grafted variety, Convis, is said to produce pawpaws up to a pound each. Many other varieties are available, but may take some searching to find.

Pawpaws require cross-pollination for fruit set, so plant at least two different varieties for best results. Or, if you plant seeds, plant at least two viable seeds; if you plant grafted varieties, you must plant two different varieties or one grafted pawpaw along with a seedling.

Pawpaw trees normally do not begin bearing fruit until they are 5 years old. However, well-grown grafted varieties sometimes begin bearing earlier.

When planting pawpaw trees, and for subsequent care, follow the normal recommendations for planting any tree or shrub. Here are a few additional tips.

1. Do not neglect to prune the tree after it has been planted. Pruning helps any tree or shrub survive its first year. This is especially important with pawpaws.

2. Water the tree frequently for the first two years. Make sure the soil never dries out, but do not waterlog. With extremely sandy soil, it is nearly impossible to water too much.

3. Water now and then with a bit of soluble fertilizer, such as MiracleGro, to help get your pawpaw trees to grow faster and bear fruit earlier.

Tom Fox owns and operates Magicland Farms near Fremonh Michigan, with his family. When the farm closes in late fall, Tom turns his attention to writing on a variety of topics and designing useful, intriguing electronic gadgets.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Ogden Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Fox, Tom
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Jul 1, 2011
Previous Article:Pair hamburgers with homemade rolls: take summer's favorite meal of burgers and hot dogs a step further by adding flavorful bread.
Next Article:Sweet as vinegar pie? Unusual dessert has a reputation as a tasty treat with a tangy bite.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters