Friday, December 4, 2015

Plant Paw-Paw - Indiana Banana, America's First Fruit Tree

History can be capricious.  The phrase "American as apple pie" has entered the lexicon of most  Americans.  This is unfair.  The apple tree is derived from wild ancestors in Central Asia and Europe and is not truly an American fruit.  This is of course the American way - adopting and adapting ideas and foods from around the world.  However, most people in this country, who have tried everything from apple butter to apple pie, have never tried true American native fruit - the Paw Paw.

The Paw Paw tree, also known as 'Indiana Banana', Asiminia triloba, is the largest fruit native to the U.S.  It is rich in vitamin and energy content, good tasting, and grows in all or part of 26 states.  Paw paw is a valuable fruit in that it has all 20 essential amino acids or building blocks of protein.  Paw paw also has more vitamin C than banana (twice as much) or apples (three times as much).  It has more potassium than apples (3x) and orange (2x) and almost as much as bananas.  It also has markedly more calcium, magnesium, and iron than these other three fruits.

A local paw paw in the author's native Indiana - with nearly ripe fruit!


Paw paw fruit does not transport well fresh, and is only a peak taste for a few days.  It is for this reason primarily that it has never been commercialized.  When eaten fresh off the tree, however, the paw paw has a flavor that is something of a cross between banana, pineapple and mango.  Paw paw fruit can be substituted for banana in most recipes.   

Range of the Paw Paw Tree - most of the Eastern United States (from USGS)
Paw paw is relatively disease and insect resistant.  It is recommended that you buy grafted trees if you want sooner fruit production - our preferred source is Stark Brothers.   According to Sheri Crabtree, a paw paw expert at Kentucky State University"Pawpaws do have a strong taproot and can be difficult to dig and transplant".  This tap root needs to be kept moist at almost all times, which requires near constant watering. This makes watering them almost daily essential right after planting.  This is not feasible for most home owners, however.  There is a device that may help, called the Groasis Waterboxx PlantCocoon or Waterboxx for short.

The Waterboxx collects dew and rain, stores it in a four gallon reservoir, and slowly releases it to the roots beneath the growing tree.  It also prevents evaporation of soil moisture - allowing a "water column" to form immediately beneath the Waterboxx.  Tap roots are induced to grow straight down in this water column until the tree is well established.  The Waterboxx can then be removed and reused again.  This is all explained in the video below:



We hope to see our natural botanic heritage more appreciated in the future.  We hope you will consider planting a paw paw tree or three.  If you want to try planting with the Waterboxx, it is available here.  

We would love to read your comments below.