Green Horizons Newsletter - AgEBB

Green Horizons

Volume 13, Number 4
Fall 2009

Pawpaw: Tropical Native Fruit
Michelle Hall, MU Center for Agroforestry

It’s hard to believe a fruit with the flavor of the tropics could be native to Missouri. But it’s true. And the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry is working to get the word out about the pawpaw.

"People are pretty blown away that this exists here," said Michael Gold, associate director of the Center and research professor of forestry. “That’s the fun thing about introducing people to it.”

Pawpaw is an oval-shaped fruit indigenous to the Eastern U.S. Its flesh is peachy-colored, creamy, custard-like, and tastes like a cross between a banana, mango and pineapple. Taste-wise and botanically, it is related to tropical fruits; pawpaw is in the mostly tropical custard apple family, Annonaceae. In its native habitat, the pawpaw tree grows in clumps in deep, wet soils as an understory tree.

The pawpaw is eaten fresh (avoiding the numerous large black seeds) or processed into desserts and baked goods - it’s a great texture and flavor for adding to smoothies, ice cream and yogurt. Pawpaws are higher in protein than most fruits, and are a good source of calcium and Vitamin C.

The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry is partnered with a group of universities and other organizations to try to shift pawpaw from the wild to a cultivated orchard crop, Gold said. The Center’s Dr. Ken Hunt planted one acre composed of 10 cultivars at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center, New Franklin, in 1999. They are looking to see which pawpaw cultivars are best for Missouri, in terms of size, taste, etc. Cultivars are grown in orchards in full sun and produce a much heavier fruit set and larger fruits than in the wild.

Although the pawpaw is a healthy fresh fruit choice and has a distinct, tropical flavor (right here in the Midwest!) there is a slight “catch.” The fruit is highly perishable (keeps only a couple of days after harvest) and does not ship well. Pawpaw harvest lasts for only a few weeks between August and October, depending on the cultivar.

Hunt and others took the Center for Agroforestry’s harvest (the second big one since planting) to the Columbia Farmers’ Market in September to test the public’s response to the fruit for the second year.

The inventory went fast. At 50 cents to $1 apiece, the 140 pawpaw Hunt selected were sold out in a couple of hours. Samples were available to familiarize buyers with the unique taste. Most were pleasantly surprised by the sweet, creamy fruit. Some were very glad to see pawpaw back at the market after developing a taste for them a year ago!

MU Center for Agroforestry representatives prepare samples of and sell fresh pawpaw at the Columbia Farmers’ Market in September.

A 2008 after-purchase survey showed respondents were very satisfied with the pawpaw they purchased in terms of appearance, taste and price. A similar survey was distributed this September; results are still coming in.

Although the perishability of pawpaw has long counted them out as prime candidates for heavy cultivation, Gold and others feel pawpaw could have a future as an orchard crop. They are native, have few pests (easy to grow organically), are fairly low maintenance and are a beautiful tree; in addition, the perishability can be addressed by freezing pawpaw pulp.

"Our goal is to bring pawpaw on as another new alternative crop for landowners," Gold said. "Right now we’re sort of ‘dipping our toe in the water’ to see if the market is receptive. Stay tuned!"

For more information about growing pawpaw, contact Hunt at, or Gold at goldm@missouri. edu. Cultivars recommended by the Center can be purchased at Forrest Keeling Nursery, http://www.fknursery. com/

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