Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday: Paw paws, the experiment

Credit: JJJJ's Photostream
Such a pretty spring flower and I understand it smells like rotting flesh!

Everything I knew about Paw-paws I learned from Captain Kangaroo...sort of
Back in TV land in the mid-fifties the Captain invited us to sing along and mime picking up Paw-paws and putting them in a basket! I hadn't the faintest idea he was talking about a fruit, actually a giant berry, but, I remember loving the game.

That was the last I heard about Asimina triloba or Common Paw paws until I became a native plant gardener and began learning to identify native wildflowers and trees. After a small patch was pointed out to me on a trail at Edwin Warner park I began to get interested in learning more about them. Paw paws are not only a charming looking understory tree, but, has good wildlife value for critters. It's a favorite host plant (larvae feed on the leaves and flowers) of the zebra swallowtail butterfly in the southeastern states and the only host plant for more northern locations. The fruit of the Paw paw is also eaten by forest mammals. But, it wasn't until my friend Terri Barnes of GroWild shared a few with me that I had any idea how wonderful they tasted~ a sweet, custard flavor that's quite hard to describe.

 A good looking tree and a good food source for critters~including humans! I had to have them in my garden. So, I planted a small seedling last spring that I found for sale at a school fund raiser and then this past week, I planted a patch! Okay, patch might be too strong a description, but, I planted more Paw paws.  Paw paws don't self-pollinate, but they do spread vegetatively and create quite a nice patch, but, no matter how big the patch gets, they still need other Paw paws, that are not part of its clonal group for pollination.  Hopefully, my little patch will produce smelly flowers that will attract flies and beetles and Paw paw fruit will be in my future. (for more about flies go to: We can't all be pretty pollinators)
The divisions dug in April developed their root system in the kiddie pool nursery and were planted last week
My Paw paw patch
I planted 6 small divisions that were dug last spring from a friend's large Paw paw patch. When Mark  messaged me that they were going to thin the patch and I was welcome to any and all divisions, I was there in a flash with gloves on and shovel in hand! I took about six pieces home and nurtured them until I thought it was safe for them to be planted out. The perfect spot was near the first seedling and they're planted about 8 feet from it in hopes that any flowers produced will be pollinated by flies and other pollinators attracted to their flowers' rotting flesh fragrance!

Fingers crossed, because I'm pushing the growing recommendations for "establishing paw paws".

Here's my rule breaking story: One, they're divisions and Paw paw divisions usually fail when transplanted; two, I planted in the fall and recommended planting is spring; three, this garden is any thing but a Paw paw's preferred growing site~i.e. well-drained, deep, fertile bottom-land.

Here's what I did:
  1. Dug them in April from an established patch.
  2. Planted them immediately into the kiddie pool nursery bed in a mixture of leaf mold, soil conditioner, compost and two bags of Complete Landscape Mix (expanded shale for drainage).
  3. Watered and nurtured them for 9 months.
  4. Planted them in mid-November in a part of the garden with deeper, rich soil, on a well draining slope near a water source. I planted them at the same depth they were growing in the kiddie pool using the soil they were grown in, taking special care with the fibrous roots, then watered them in well and  mulched with leaf mold and fallen leaves to mimic their native habitat. 

I think I've given them a pretty good start and have faith they will survive what ever Mother Nature and this garden can throw at them!
It has lovely fall color
More about Paw-paws
The Common Paw paw is the northernmost New World representative of the Annonaceae tropical family. It's called a "tropical fruit for the temperate area". It's a lovely understory tree with big leaves and large greenish-blackish fruit. Inside is a delightful tasting fruit that's pale to dark yellow with a network of dark seeds. The taste has been described as a banana-mango-pineapple~I don't know, I just thought it was good.

Asimina triloba is native to the eastern US from the great lakes all the way to the Gulf coast and west into Tennessee where I live and garden. It's found naturally growing in the hills around my neighborhood where it gets the excellent drainage it requires. Grown in full sun it will develop a narrowly pyramidal shape with dense, drooping foliage down to the ground level. Although, it's reported to fruit better in full sun it needs shade and protection from winds its first two years. Remember to plant two trees so they can cross pollinate and please don't dig them from the wild. If you're fortunate and have generous friends you might try a Paw paw experiment like mine. What have you got to lose!
six inch long fruit with deliciousness inside
Speaking of generous friends! I want to take this time to thank all the regular Wildflower Wednesday participants for a great year and to thank all of my readers and commenters for making blogging so much fun. You all rock!
Happy Thanksgiving.

Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

 Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Good luck with the experiment and this is the first time I've seen flowers of the hardy paw paw!

  2. I see those beautiful blooms each spring but the wildlife eat the fruit before I ever get to see them in full. It is fun to watch the funny little fruits grow. I don't think the wildlife care how big they are when they eat them.

  3. Thanks for the information on paw-paws. I've seen them with the fruit, though I don't recall seeing them in flower form. Those flowers are pretty--you'll have to let us know how they smell. Happy Thanksgiving to you and thank YOU for providing this great meme to share!

  4. Thanks for reminding me where I had heard this song years ago--good old Captain Kangaroo! I'm eager to see how your experiment turns out, Gail--I hope they all thrive and create a true pawpaw patch for you. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Hi Gail - fascinating! We may be mild here but I don't think mild enough for paw paw!
    Thanks so much for hosting and have a fabulous Thanksgiving.

  6. Good luck with your paw paws, Gail! I hope they thrive for you and produce lots of luscious fruit. I considered planting a paw paw when I redid my front garden, but I very quickly ran out of room for all the trees and shrubs I wanted to grow. I've heard they are delicious.

  7. I have heard of these trees and remember the Captain and paw-paws too. Fascinating tree that I will be adding to a growing list of plants to add to my garden!

  8. We have 4-5 pawpaws now, one of which is taller than I am and flowered this year. I don't recall any odor from the flowers, only that they were beautiful and photogenic. I hope your patch thrives and is fruitful!

  9. This is really fascinating. I started with your information and have found west coast nurseries that have it. It is a little large for my garden, but I think I can get it to work.

  10. Oh, I so wish I had some Paw Paws but do see the zebra swallowtails some times so I know there must be a few trees growing in the wild around here. Thanks for the explanation and I hope your paw paws do well.

  11. I've never tasted a Paw Paw fruit, but I think the trees were more common in Indiana--where I lived until the age of nine. Depending on the source, it looks like we're on the very northernmost range for Paw Paws here in Southern Wisconsin. If I ever have a chance to do so, I will taste the fruit. Zebra Swallowtails are so lovely.

  12. Amazing Gail. I've never even seen a Paw Paw never mind tasted one! My wild flowers are beautiful but seem very tame by comparison. Gillian

  13. Lovely post. Have a great week ahead!


  14. I love paw paws especially for the zebra swallowtails they attract. Thanks for the post!

  15. I have a couple of seed-grown trees from Burnt Ridge, they are over 10 years old. One sets fruit but the other doesn't, though they both bloom. A few years ago I splurged on a grafted tree, but it just sits and barely grows, is still only about 3' tall. It is my hope of getting the other tree to fruit... maybe someday. My fruits are green when ripe. I can tell when they fall off. I hope some caterpillars can make use of the leaves. Good luck with yours.

  16. I don't think the flowers smell that bad. I think they smell like Elmer's glue. Love the fruits. I have a recipe for pawpaw/chocolate swirl bread to die for--adapted from a banana/chocolate bread recipe. Be aware that the seeds are toxic, so get 'em all out!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson