The pawpaw tree is rarely seen and hardly known, yet it is native to the U.S. and Canada, hardy in zones 5 through 8 as well as cold and shade tolerant. The pawpaw, Asimina triloba, bears edible and desirable fruit and aesthetically gives off a tropical vibe. It has large, dark green, tropical-looking foliage, produces purple flowers and grows slowly but can achieve a height of 25 feet. The fruit of the pawpaw deserves its place at the top of the list of desirable landscape plant characteristics; growing in bunches of oblong, hand-sized, yellowish-greenish fruits which mature in the fall. The taste of the fruit has been described as mango-pineapple-banana vanilla custard.
The pawpaw’s natural range extends as far north as Ontario, Canada, south to Florida, west to Texas and all along the eastern seaboard to Connecticut and New York. They are tolerant of cold down to negative 20 degrees celsius and there are some nursery managers and gardeners who claim pawpaws will survive in zone 4.
Additionally, pawpaws are very fast growing and are a easy fruit tree to cultivate. Trees mature between the ages of 2 and 5 and will produce up to 50 pounds of fruit per mature tree. The pawpaw is resistant to pests and disease and besides occasionally pruning sucker growth, little maintenance is required. Deer are not attracted to pawpaw bark, fruit or leaves, they seemingly do not like the taste and tend to leave it alone after taking a bite or two. Finally, the pawpaw tree is one of very few host plants necessary for the completion of the life cycle of our native zebra swallowtail butterfly.
However, there are, of course, some things to consider before deciding on a pawpaw tree for your landscape. Although they can be considered understory trees, in cold, northern regions it is best to plant them where they can get sufficient sun. And, while once established it is a fairly low-maintenance member of your landscape, the first few years can require a little extra TLC; shading and watering adequately and appropriately while the root system becomes established. Contact your arborist if you want to consider adding a pawpaw to your landscape, they will assist with cultivar and specimen selection, site selection, transplanting advice and any amendments necessary.