Height: Up to about 30 feet
Lifespan: Unclear, but unlikely to be especially long-lived
Fall Foliage: Yellow
Range: A relatively unusual range; Texas and Missouri east to Pennsylvania, but absent from New England and the southern coastal plain
Typical Habitat: Somewhat adaptable tree, which grows in lowland and upland forests alike
The Common Pawpaw: Large and Unusual Fruit from an Unusual Tree
In many respects, the common pawpaw is a relatively uninspiring tree. It rarely grows very large, and it often blends right in with the rest of the forest understory. It does have fairly large leaves, which have a slightly “tropical” feel, but they aren’t spectacular enough to turn heads.
But this tree produces the largest fruit of any U.S. native – and it’s an unusual fruit in many other ways too. Reaching up to about 6 inches in length, pawpaw fruit are variable in shape, though they often resemble a figure 8.
The fruit, which are beloved by many as said to resemble a custard-flavored banana, attract wildlife from the surrounding area, as they are as popular with wild animals as they are humans. In fact, some naturalists have noted that ripe pawpaw fruit can be tough to find in some areas, as the local critters tend to consume them so quickly.
Common Pawpaw Identification: Tips & Tricks
The only thing one is likely to confuse a common pawpaw with is other pawpaws – especially the dwarf pawpaw (Asimina parviflora). But distinguishing between the two isn’t usually difficult: Common pawpaw leaves are generally 5 to 11 inches long, while dwarf pawpaw leaves are 4 to 7 inches long.
Location may also provide clues, as the dwarf species is more common on the coastal plain.
The Common Pawpaw: Additional Information
Have we failed to quench your thirst for pawpaw knowledge? Keep learning by checking out some of these interesting resources:
- North Carolina State Extension: A relatively information-dense overview of the species, including a quick-reference chart and numerous photographs.
- Missouri Botanical Garden: A good general resource, but this page is most notable for the assortment of photographs it provides.
- U.S. Forest Service: A comprehensive guide to the common pawpaw, including information about the tree’s range, habitat, fire response and forest associates.