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Common Pawpaw: Native Plant of the Month

Pawpaw fruit

Pawpaw fruit

If you’ve stumbled across the large greenish-yellow fruit of the pawpaw in the woods at Tara, you might have wondered what it was. These oblong, oddly shaped fruits grow sometimes as large as 6 inches long!

The common pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) can be seen in our native plant garden and grows in bottomland soils in our state. It is native to the eastern and middle U.S. from Texas north to Nebraska and northeast to Wisconsin and as far east as Connecticut.

The average height of the common pawpaw tree is between 15 to 20 feet, but it can grow to be as tall as 40 feet in certain conditions. Pawpaws can form dense thickets in bottomland areas as they spread and sprout from root suckers. The leaves are deciduous, turning golden yellow in fall before falling off.

In the spring, the tree produces deep maroon/purple flowers that lay close to the stems. The flowers of the pawpaw are fly and beetle pollinated, producing a faintly sickly-sweet scent to attract them. Bloom time is generally April and May. View the flowers here:

Common pawpaw

Common pawpaw

Wildlife Value

The fruits common pawpaw are eaten by many mammals including opossums, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, and even black bears. White-tailed deer will browse on this small tree and beavers will eat the bark.

Pawpaws (Asimina spp.) are host plants for the caterpillar (larvae) of the zebra swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) and the pawpaw sphinx moth (Dolba hyloeus). The zebra swallowtail feeds exclusively on the young leaves of pawpaws and it is thought to obtain chemical protection from predators through the ingestion of leaves.

Be cautious when handling the fruit or leaves of this tree as some people can get skin irritation from the chemicals in the pawpaw tree.

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