Pawpaws are small deciduous trees that are hardy in Zones 5 to 8 and usually grow 15 to 20 feet tall (up to 40 feet under ideal conditions). They are attractive, with large, showy leaves and a pyramidal shape. Sometimes suckers form creating a pawpaw thicket. Like persimmons, they are more commonly grown in the South.
Pawpaw flowers are maroon and inconspicuous, about 1.5 inches across, and appear in late May before the leaves expand. Depending on pollination, trees bear clusters of one to 6 fruit. The fruits are usually 4 to 6 inches long with thin green skin and whitish flesh.
Two unrelated pawpaws are required for successful pollination. Hand pollination can increase fruiting, because bees show little interest in flowers. Flies can pollinate pawpaw flowers, so some growers hang pieces of rotting meat from the plants to attract them.
When ripe, fruits turn yellowish-black, resembling over-ripe bananas in looks, texture and somewhat in flavor. The flesh is rich and sweet with a custard consistency, very distinctive flavor, and many dark brown seeds about the size of lima beans. Fruits ripen from mid-September until frost. They are very perishable and too fragile for commercial handling. While usually eaten fresh, some gardeners dry or freeze them.
Some cultivars for New York include: 'Davis', 'Sunflower', 'Taylor' and 'Taytwo'. Seedlings are interesting to grow because of variable fruit size and quality. Fruit from seedlings may fail to ripen before frost. You can harvest fruit before frost and allow it to ripen indoors. Select only dark-fleshed cultivars because white-fleshed fruit may be bitter.
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