Discover nature this week and scout the understory of Missouri’s riparian woods for our state’s only native, tropical tree… and its ripening, custard-like fruits.
Pawpaw trees – Asimina tribloba – are small, with slender trunks and broad crowns.
They grow in shaded colonies on moist lower slopes, ravines, valleys, along streams, and at the base of wooded bluffs.
Dark-red, drooping flowers bloom in spring – each containing both male and female parts. Petals eventually drop to reveal green pistils resembling tiny bananas that will become the fruit.
In early autumn, these fruits mature into a sort of banana-mango-pear-like delicacy with a custard-consistency.
If you hope to harvest these forest fruits, you’ll have competition: birds, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons relish ripe pawpaws, and have a keen sense of just when to pick them.
Historically, pawpaws have many medicinal uses, and scientists are studying them for possible cancer-fighting properties. American Indians weaved the inner bark of the trees into a fiber cloth, and pioneers used it for stringing fish.
Learn more about pawpaws, including how to identify them, and recipes preparing them, with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.
Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.