Paw Paw is Missouri’s official state tree. In its native range, it’s is not only a source of pride but is woven into its history, both culinary and cultural. A couple that had moved to Wisconsin from Missouri came into the nursery, and when they saw our Paw Paw, the look on their faces said it all. It was the same face one gets when reminiscing while looking through a photo album. They bought one, they couldn’t resist.
Paw Paw is the only temperate member of a tropical plant family, all of which carry similar fruits. It is native to most of eastern US and the lower Midwest from zones 5-8 and does indeed like hot summers but also cold winters.
Name: The name “Pawpaw” seems to be somehow linked to the papaya. The fruits of both are somewhat similar. The papaya is also sometimes called “papaw.”
Historical Uses: The inner bark is fibrous and has historically been used for cordage. Native Americans used the fibrous inner bark to make cloth.
Paw Paw contains acetogenins, which are anti-carcinogens. You can find herbal extracts in commerce.
There are many people, especially those within its native range, that grow Paw Paws. There are growers’ associations that have useful growing information and more support. As interest in native plants continues to grow in Wisconsin, customers show more interest. You can grow food in your backyard (on the scale of larger edible fruit – i.e stone fruits like Apples and Pears) with a native tree. Food magazines occasionally feature it, and recipes are available and abundant.
Attempts to make Paw Paw fruit available commercially have been unsuccessful due to its the fruit’s short shelf life and propensity for bruising. Prevent bruising by picking it before it hits the ground. Some go so far as to create a crash pad on the ground below the branches. While picking, and then when storing, the fruits cannot be piled on top of each other as their weight will also cause bruising. You can see why this would be problematic when trying to collect, package, and ship the fruit in large numbers. Propagators work to create cultivars to address this issue, but none are currently available.