Did you know that the Midwest is home to a very exotic-looking edible fruit? This delicious fruit, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) grows right here in your forests of Missouri and eastern Kansas.
When the soft green skin is peeled off, creamy yellow flesh is revealed with consistency between a soft banana and custard. When fully ripe the pawpaw can practically be eaten with a spoon and one fruit is a dessert all its own. The taste is somewhere mixed between banana, mango, and pineapple all in one.
Pawpaw are small understory trees that thrive in rich moist soils and grow about 12 - 25 feet tall. They have large leaves that are about 10 - 12 inches long. In spring, the flowers are magnificent. I love to see them on my spring walks as they are often the first colors in the woods. Pawpaw flowers are about 1-2 inches across, in a rich red-purple or maroon when mature and with sepals (the part the covers the petals) and six petals. The flowers most often arrive before any other tree has any leaves, including the pawpaw. The flowers hover upon slender branches like ruby gemstones on candelabra.
According to research done at the University of Kentucky (which apparently is the authority on pawpaws) "Pawpaw has three times as much vitamin C as apple, twice as much as banana, and one third as much as orange. Pawpaw has six times as much riboflavin as apple, twice as much as orange. Niacin content of pawpaw is twice as high as banana, fourteen times as high as apple, and four times as high as orange."
Pawpaw has a higher mineral content than all of the other fruits, some by more than ten times. The minerals mentioned include, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese; pawpaws also have all essential amino acids. The list goes on and on.
A couple of important things to remember with any wild fruits: First, ensure you have a knowledgeable person with you to identify the fruit. Not everyone can eat them. Be cautious at first. Try only a bite or two to ensure your system can tolerate the fruit, a few people have reported a stomach ache after eating pawpaws. Second, pick only fruits on land where you have permission. Third, do NOT dig up wild pawpaw trees. Pawpaws grow in patches because they are often linked together. They have long tap roots and do not transplant well - not even professionals can get them to transplant. So don't try it.
If you would like to try the fruit, the best place to locate pawpaws is most likely the farmers markets. (I ask vendors at these markets to be ethical people and not forage on private lands.)
Finally, I will save my seeds and mail some to the first readers who request them. Happy Trails!
Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri; a certified Residential Energy Client Service Coordinator by the National Energy Retrofit Institute; and a past nature center manager for 20 years, including over 17-years with the Missouri Department of Conservation.