Paw paws are in season

Paw paw fruits ripen on a paw paw tree near Middletown (Courtesy Photo)

Paw paw trees are now bearing fruit in our area. The paw paw (Asimina triloba) is native to Eastern temperate forests. It's a deciduous perennial plant that is multi-stemmed and prefers deep, well-drained soils with a slightly acid pH. Native paw paws cannot tolerate direct sunlight so they grow in the understory of forests.

The plant divides by sprouting so that, once established, the paw paw can form dense clumps or "patches." It has the largest edible fruit of any North American plant, a fruit that has a tropical taste almost like a ripe banana. The fruit develops in September to October and initially has a light green husk. It develops black splotches and turns black soon thereafter. The fruit has a very short shelf life and is most often eaten raw; however, it can be made into jellies, jams and pies.

Paw paws are highly sought-after by wildlife, especially raccoons. Chemicals extracted from the fruit and leaves have been used in the treatment of certain types of cancers as they have been shown to inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells.

Nature Notes for 9/26/2010