What Is a Pawpaw Tree?

Fruit of the common pawpaw tree.
Fruit of the common pawpaw tree.

A pawpaw tree is a relatively uncommon tree grown in the eastern United States and Canada. Though the tree is small when compared to other trees, the pawpaw tree is known for its fruit which is tasty and can be eaten raw. The pawpaw fruit is also nutritious and easily accessible although it is restricted to areas that have the requisite conditions that are conducive for its growth. Due to its similarity to the apple, it is sometimes confused with the custard apples and because it grows wildly, it can be accessed by everybody irrespective of its status.


The pawpaw tree is believed to have existed some 10,000 years ago during the ice age as speculated by botanists. Indigenous Americans have been consuming this fruit long before it was discovered by Europeans during their exploration and conquest of America. On 1541, a Spanish exploration report found that the pawpaw tree was being cultivated by the natives living in areas east of the Mississippi River. European explorers also utilized the fruit as a back-up whenever their supplies ran short to prevent starvation and death as in the case of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1810. Early American Presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson loved eating the fruit as deserts. Folktales and poems have been composed in praise of the cultural significance of the pawpaw tree.

Classification and Distribution

The scientific name for the pawpaw tree is Asimina triloba. Asimina is the genus while triloba is the species name. Apart from the scientific name, the pawpaw is referred to by local names in the places it grows like Kentucky banana. The tree is small and only reaches a height of 11 meters and 8-12 inches in diameter while the leaves have a length of 10-12 inches and 4-5 inches in width. The pawpaw fruit weighs 20-510 grams and has a length of 5-15 centimeters and a width of 1-3 inches. Inside the fruit, there are several seeds in the middle. The tree is found in North America from southern Florida all the way to Southern Canada and towards the mid-west.

Uses of the Paw Paw

Because of its short shelf-life, the pawpaw fruit is not popular with big food corporations but can be found in smaller markets. Many families in North America eat the fruit as a dessert after peeling off its skin. The fruit has vitamin A, which helps to improve human eyesight and boost the immunity. The fruit is recommended because of its low sugar and great taste. The Native Americans used the bark of the pawpaw tree to make strings that were used in fishing while the seeds were dried and ground to create a medicinal powder that was capable of warding off head lice.


Unlike in the past where it grew wildly, this is not possible due to the threats from climate change. Some states in the US like New York and New Jersey have declared the species endangered and have constituted legislature to protect it from extinction.


More in Environment