Stalking the Exotic and Wild Paw Paw Tree

September 15, 2008

I joined a group of fellow explorers from the PA Backyard Fruit Growers Association this past weekend to take part in a perilous expedition in search of wild Paw Paws in the back country of South Central, PA.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t so dangerous, and most of the Paw Paw trees were actually fairly tame and cultivated varieties rather than those growing wild, but it was still a new and interesting experience for most of our group. The BYFG Paw Paw tours take place each fall but this was my first opportunity to attend the annual outing.

Introducing the Unusual and Rare Paw Paw Tree

If you’re not familiar with the Paw Paw don’t feel bad because they’re pretty uncommon and seldom find their way into the typical backyard landscape. They do grow wild in Pennsylvania and other areas on the East Coast, with a range that extends down into the southern states.

Paw Paws are a medium sized, upright growing tree with large dark green leaves, and clusters of fruit that ripen early in the fall season. The tree is attractive and often takes on a pyramid like shape with a wide base narrowing to a peak at the top.

There are many different varieties of Paw Paws including; Sunflower, Mango, Collins Select, Pennsylvania Golden, Davis, and Rebecca’s Gold. Growers are also currently working to develop new varieties of Paw Paws in attempts to improve its growth, quality, and productivity.

Cultivating Paw Paw’s in the Home Garden

For a plant that grows wild you would think that it would be a cinch to raise Paw Paws in the back yard or garden. Unfortunately that isn’t necessarily the case. While some gardeners are quite successful cultivating this fruit, others struggle with the temperamental and painfully slow growing plant.

The first challenge for the gardener is due to the Paw Paws odd cultural requirements. The plant does not take well at all to being transplanted. Then the young seedling grows best in a shady location, but for fruiting and mature growth the plant prefers to be situated in full sunshine.

So transplant paw paws with the root ball intact, provide temporary shade for the juvenile plant, grow the tree in a spot where it will receive full sun when it matures and finally, make sure your patience is high because this is a very slow growing and maturing fruit.

It appears that the location and growing environment are key considerations and that the trees appreciate a nearby water source such as a stream or spring. The paw paw seems to tolerate sharing its space with other trees, will grow in forested areas, and will spread by way of underground runners to expand its territory and produce new offspring.

Strange Sights and Odors in the Paw Paw Patch

A mature paw paw tree can grow over twenty-five feet tall but it may take a decade to reach such lofty heights. You can enjoy your first fruits in less than half that time though, with puny little five foot tall paw paw trees straining to support a paltry crop of heavy and full-sized fruits.

Paw Paws are also “unique” when it comes to their pollination requirements. You typically need more than one variety for pollination and paw paw flowers are described as being “dark and stinky” so good luck in getting a bee to go anywhere near this tree!

Instead paw paws are dependent on flies and beetles to do the dirty work necessary for their pollination. Some paw paw enthusiasts place road killed carcasses near their trees to help draw in the pollinators, but I think I’d test my skill at hand pollinating before resorting to more drastic measures!

Sweet Rewards for the Adventurous Fruit Seeker

If all of this paw paw discussion sounds really, really strange don’t worry, things aren’t about to change at the end of the tale. Paw paw fruits look a little bit like an elongated mango with a creamy yellow or white pulp inside. They are ripe when they begin to soften and should not be removed from the tree prior to that stage. The fruit will also fall from the tree as the ripen.

Ripe paw paw fruits are very aromatic and will quickly fill the room with an exotic and fruity aroma. Most paw paw admirers search them out or grow them not for an ornamental display, but because of the tasty fruit that’s not easy to describe or draw comparisons to.

The best comparison would be with something that’s not a fruit at all… a rich, colorful, sweet flavored custard; that’s exactly how I would describe the texture and flavor of the paw paw’s flesh. I personally like them but at least one of my co-workers that I shared the fruits with had a very different reaction and opinion (but I have to give her credit for trying it)!

Maybe it was the texture and odd consistency that she wasn’t prepared for. All I can say is that paw paws must be pretty delicious — either that or a lot of people are just as peculiar as this fruit is to go through all the effort to forage or cultivate this uncommon plant.

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  • How interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten paw paw, but it certainly sounds worth trying. I have never seen the fruit for sale here (not that I’ve looked). It would have to be “imported” from the East Coast, as I doubt the trees grow here. I’ll keep my eyes open!

  • Josh

    Really cool. I’ve never seen one of these in the wild. But I hope I do now that I know they exist!

  • I’ve had nothing but trouble growing PawPaw trees in the past. I started about ten from seed. THey all germinated very easily, and the also transplated well, but over the past threes years they’ve either died or just done very little in the way of growing. I think I’m down to three now. Glad it’s been successful for you.

  • Kenny Point

    Kitt, good luck finding a paw paw in any market, I don’t think that there are any commercial growers and it would be a difficult crop to cultivate and even more of a problem to ship the ripe fruits any distance.
    Josh, there are parks and forested areas here in PA that have wild stands of mature paw paws that are flourishing.
    Mrtumnas, I don’t grow any paw paws myself although I’m thinking of giving it a try and have a spot in mind where they might grow. They do seem like a finicky tree to raise and are very particular about their growing conditions. But I saw many examples of cultivated trees that were growing just fine and if your environment is right they care for themselves as evidenced by the trees that grow wild with no assistance from a gardener.

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  • Glenn Hennigan

    I’ve messed with Paw Paws for a long time. They seem to be a legume. Legumes rely on specific bacteria [called inoculant] in the soil to thrive. A large amount of soil left on the root ball should provide the proper bacteria. I enjoy your site. Glenn in Kansas

  • Kybx

    I will be planting a pair of Paw Paws near my house and am very interested to know how invasive the root system will be vis a vis my waste water pipe system. I am connected to the county’s sewer system, so there is no drain field to screw up, but there are pipes that always might possibly have a crack to be invaded. There are few gardening rules I won’t break, but I have a healthy respect for the one abut not planting a River Birch or Weeping Willow near the pipes. I just want to know if the Paw Paw falls into their category.

  • Kenny Point

    Sorry but I can’t advise on how invasive the paw paw root systems are. I have a friend that has a large paw paw tree growing next to his home, but if there is any concern over your pipes I would play it safe. I know that paw paws do like water and I’ve seen them growing wild alongside streams here in Pennsylvania.

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  • Tom McMahon

    I am going to try to grow three of them. I planted two several years ago and they did grow, until my kids cut them down with the mower. THey sprouted again and again my kids ran over them with the mower. Oh well.

    So I am going to try once again and see if we can get some of that delicious fruit I have read about, but never tasted.

  • Mrs JM Batist

    My paw paw tree was just a fluke, i buried some seeds and forgot about it, when it was approx 60cm tall, i wondered what invasive plant this was, being a working mom, i decided to let it grow some more then try to look in my gardening books what this plant was, so happy to discover that it was a paw paw tree.These friuts are quite expensive (priced per kg) in RSA that’s why I wanted to try and plant my own. My tree is just over 1m tall now, and there are little flowers popping out, am I gonna see fruit soon? My tree cant be more than a year old!

  • Kenny Point

    Paw Paws take a long time to reach maturity but I have heard of young trees only a few feet tall managing to bear one or two paw paw fruits, so it is possible.

  • Mark

    Do these PAW PAW hunts still take place in or around south central PA ? I’m in Mechanicsburg and would be interested in going on 1 of these adventures.

    Please let me know,

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Mark, I attended the paw paw outing last fall and as far as I know another tour will be scheduled sometime around September. There is nothing posted on the calendar yet but you can check the Backyard Fruit Growers website later this summer when it is updated. They may hold off setting dates because the times vary depending on the ripening of the paw paw fruits.

  • Anne Liv & Arvid

    We are living in Norway and have planted a paw paw seed in March an now it`s growing about 4 inch.
    Norway is not as cold as many people think. We are living in the south of Norway and in the wintertime we can have temperatures down to 10f.

    What do you think the chance is to succeed?

    regards Anne Liv & Arvid

  • Kenny Point

    Hello Anne Liv, Paw Paw’s seem to be pretty hardy and survive the winters here in PA rather easily, so I think that it’s worth a try and that you have a very good chance to grow them successfully in Norway.

  • Steve

    Kenny, could you tell me of a place in the Harrisburg area where paw paws grow in the wild? I think I missed this year’s outing.

  • Cynthia

    Paw paws grow great here in Juniata county. Both wild and purchased cultivars. Mine start bearing at about 4 years of age. I harvest them a few days before they are completely ripe or the raccoons have dinner.

    Hand pollinating is quite a chore. Roadkill an efficient option.

  • Dede Chapman

    Northern Indiana – never heard of them till last week when a guy gave my friend one. He said to put in the freezer for a couple days, then peel it like a banana. i can’t wait to taste it!!

  • Denis Pasquale

    I planted 3 Paw Paws in the springof 09 and all three have developed leaves and seem to be surviving. Most of the growth is from the base of the plant. I am going to plant a more mature Paw Paw tree this spring. I planted them on the edge of my woods where there are a lot of deer flies and beetles.

  • Cynthia

    Dear Denis,

    and everyone else posting about paw paws. I wish you all could stop by tomorrow. I am up to my ears in ripe paw paws. Tired of making cookies. Now, I am peeling them, removing the seeds, putting the flesh in the blender with about a half cup of frozen orange juice concentrate and freezing the puree in pint jars. I’ll add it to oatmeal, breads, pancakes, and other such this winter. According to the Kentucky web site, it is very rich in vitamins and minerals, so don’t want to waste any.


  • carol

    I’ve never seen a paw paw but they sound interesting. Are there any growing in the wild near Philadelphia, PA? I’d love to see and taste these.

  • Cynthia


    Do you have a native plant organization near you? They should be able to answer your question.

  • Jack

    Just wondering if anyone knows if there are wild paw paw trees on Maryland ?

  • Kenny Point

    Jack, I can’t provide the specific location of any paw paw trees in Maryland but my guess would be that they do grow wild in the state.

  • Howard

    The paw paw is one of the BEST native treats one could ever eat!! To all who read this: on September 18 and 19 there will be a PAW PAW FEST in Athens, OHIO. We (Shirley & I) went last year and just MISSED being able to taste the Paw Paw beer–we won’t miss it this year!!!

  • jon

    Can anyone help me find paw paw trees that will produce on Southeast Alabama? jonward1979 (at) yahoo (dot) com

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Jon, you might check with James over at Growing Groceries, he farms in Southeast Louisiana and has been experimenting with Paw Paws down there for at least a few years.

  • Howard

    Planted 18 paw paw tree seeds today. Also gave some to my neighbor. If just a few of them start I will be happy. It may take a few years, but the reward will be more than worth it.
    I’ll post updates as the seeds sprout and grow.
    Remember,September 18 & 19 for the Paw Paw Festival in Athens, Ohio.

  • Dave

    You are so right about the shade requirements of the young trees. I planted four, three years ago. The two in partial shade have done well, but the two in limited shade to full sun have since died. Also, I’m grateful to KyBx for the comments on keeping the roots far from house and pipes.

    PS – why did I plant Paw Paws? We came across a wild, fruiting tree in Tennessee a few years back: these things are delicious!

  • Howard

    Any one have a picture of what the emerging paw paw tree leaves look like?? I don’t want to pull out the plant thinking it is a weed.

  • Jill

    I want to find these trees in the hills of southern Missouri growing in the wild if at all possible. Can anyone advise the habitat where I might see these trees growing? Does they grow more near to water or to other particular trees or shrubs? Any folklore or old homey tidbits or assistance would truly be appreciated.

  • Howard

    Go to ‘Intergration’-Good site-located near Athens, OH–Thet sponser the Paw paw Festival in the fall (Sept. 18 & 19 this year).

  • Mary

    I live in Paw Paw Michigan and just found out that two trees I have growing on my property are paw paw trees! The previous owner didn’t know what kind of trees they were, a wedding present to his dad. One of them has fruit growing on it! The trees must be 12 years old, so a long time to grow and produce fruit. I’ve never tasted them so I am excited! Is there a way to tell what variety it is?

  • Howard

    go to ‘’ There are links to the sponsers and they may be able to help you

  • Samie

    Missouri University has at least 3 sites in mid-mo where they have been testing Paw Paws. Google Missoouri Paw Paws.

    If you have a tree that appears dead from the sun. Put a tomato cage around it and cover it with a piece of cloth. I had 1 I thought had died & tried this and it sprouted in a couple weeks from the base of the tree. The twig when scratched showed no green, but the root system was still growing.

  • howard

    RE: seeds planted April 11–looks like no sprouting–will keep area undisruribed–Maybe next year!!!!!

  • Samie

    You can order pawpaw fruit from Integration $11 for 2 pounds plus shipping. They probably want to ship at overnight prices, haven’t called to find out the charges. Or if your in the Columbia Missouri area the Universit of Missouri is doing a field test on pawpaws and will bring them to market. Check the Columbia Farmers Market site.

  • Samie

    Before you invest much money in them, try them. They may be good in ice cream or baked. I don’t like them raw, nasty aftertaste.

  • I got a Paw Paw in my CSA this week in Columbus Ohio (9/16/10.) WOW! What a bizarro taste. It’s delicious. It tastes like mango/banana cream pie, but with a cross between a melon texture and a pudding texture. Worth the wait!


    Where I get this fruit Paw Paw in Indonesia?

  • Hans

    My son and I were out looking for a place to hunt in central Mo here recently and while we out scouting around I looked down and saw one of these Pawpaw on the ground. In 22yrs of living here in Mo I have never once seen these. Unbelievable delicious. Smelled and tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before. We thought we had found something new. Ended up Just being new to us. Hope to find more.

  • Amanda

    Hi I have just bought a paw paw for the first time and would love to know how I can tell when its ready to eat? Does it have to be soft to touch similar to an avocado or am I waiting for a change in color? Its a yellow paw paw and at the moment its predominately yellow with a few small patches of green.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Amanda, yes the Paw Paw fruits do soften as they ripen and the flesh should almost be the consistency of a custard when it is ready to eat.

  • Jean

    You can buy Paw Paw trees from native plant nurseries in the PA, NJ area such as Yellow Springs Nursery in Chester, PA. Also check w/Edge of the Woods Nursery near Easton,PA and Pinelands Native Nursery in Columbia, So. Jersey. Also GO to the fantastic native plant sale at the Native Plant Conference held at a college in Lancaster, PA the first weekend of June every year. All have great websites. Plant Paw Paws for the endangered native Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. It is the only host plant around to ensure the species survival!

  • Shane

    Looking for old school stuff like “buckeyes”, “perssimons” and “paw paws”. My family lives in central indiana and always has. I would like to look for paw paws. What habitat is the best place to look?

  • Cindy


    The wild paw paws near my house grow in the under story of a oak/maple forest and in a low, wet area. They don’t seem to fruit well. They are hard to transplant, so if you want to grow them, better to order one.

  • Kenny Point

    Shane, Paw Paws grow wild in forest habitats and also like growing in moist soils along creek beds.

  • I am growing two paw paw trees and this season one was full of blooms and the cultivator I believe sunflower has not bloomed. So I used blossom set to cheat this season. I have fruit setting on my more mature looking tree. A few dozen. I have had the trees over five years.

  • Linda Waring

    My family lives in Accokeek, Md, 15 miles south of Washington, DC, in a small development build in a woods preserve. We have 2 1/2 acres situated beside Mattawoman Creek, one of the loveliest creeks I’ve ever seen. We have a large variety of wild life and trees including quite a few wild Paw Paw trees. We weren’t sure what they were until I searched on the web today, saw pictures, and found this site. The trees are in our yard at the edge of the woods and they are laden with fruit.

  • Kenny Point

    Well aren’t you the lucky one Linda! Have you tried the fruit yet? I guess not since you didn’t know what they were. You are in for a treat and if you need a hand with harvesting just let me know! 🙂

  • Well ain’t I the privileged one, I live in South Africa in a small house with a big yard and no garden or skills. I noticed this strange looking tree and did not take notice, Then one day there was these fruits hanging in clusters and then only noticed that’s a paw paw tree. How it ended up there I don’t know, but cant help remembering my late mothers words, that i will never go hungry. Its been two years now that i am unemployed and many a day i lived of the fruit’s of this tree. It’s divine as a ripe fruit in a smoothy, with lemon and sugar, or just plain like that, its also delicious as a green fruit, I make jam, soup, and sweet glazed paw paw pieces. I do believe that it’s also has a medicinal use (stomach problems)

  • Samie

    I planted several seeds around 4/20/11(stratified & kept in refridge for the winter). I had read they come up in June. So on July 4th(today) I dug up 1 seed to see how it was doing. It had sent out a tap root about 3″ long. Looks like they should poke up out of the ground this fall, maybe next spring. If you have planted seed don’t give up. I’ve read it can take a full year to sprout.

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  • Samie

    I gave up 2 weeks too early. 7/18/11 they’re coming up today. We are in a heatwave here in Missouri. I bet it’s the steamy heat that brought them up.

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  • jr

    My dog and I just found a patch of 20 -30 wild paw paws on our small farm in south west ohio. Anyone want seeds

  • Patrick

    I live in Nigeria, I really want to have some seed of paw paw (asimila triloba) how can I get it quickly and what is the cost. thanks

  • jeff mayfield

    I live in west tennessee and i find paw paw trees on back roads all the time but ive never seen a big one.I wonder if they grow to a mature size this far south.

  • Robert Angstrom

    Pawpaws need several hundred hours of cold winter dormancy or they will not bear fruit so I don’t think pawpaws would be successful in Nigeria. Pawpaws have several tropical relatives from South America such as the “soursops” and “guanabana” (Annona muricata). These should grow well in southern Nigeria and people may already grow them locally.

  • Linda Waring

    Our wild Paw Paws are dropping multiple clusters of ripe fruit. Since we now know what they are, we’re going to try them. We live in Southern Maryland. They are happy little Paw Paws!

  • Kenny Point

    Lucky you Linda, enjoy your Paw Paws!

  • JB

    I live in CA and had never heard of a paw paw tree. I was just back to my family’s place in K.C., MO, and they have a forrest of all kinds of trees (even oak and basswood) & grape vines (all wild). Paw paw trees are scattered among the other trees near the creek. The deer, racoons, and whatever else is out there love them; but we found a few, and they were delicious–very strong flavored. One goes a long way. And I learned they are very rich in vitamins & minerals.

  • Cindy

    The paw paws have been ripening here in central Pennsylvania for the last couple weeks. I have different varieties and they don’t all ripen at the same time.

    They are wonderful, I just love them. Pick them slightly green, or the raccoons will beat you to them.

  • jp

    Hi, folks! Without the historic paw paw, the Lewis & Clark expedition may have failed! I put “tasting a paw paw” on my bucket list last year and went to the Ohio Paw Paw Fest 16-18 Sept to do it. I flew from GA with my daughter. It was a hoot, with many musicians, lots of food and souvenirs, plus free canoe rides. Got the t-shirt, posters and a paw paw beer glass, too! Go, and I guarantee you will love it! There’s camping space, but you may need to book early. For a quick trip, go Saturday. Motels nearby may be full, because U. of Ohio may have a weekend football game. A van would help. You really need to go to one of these! As Arnold said: “I’ll be back!”

  • Phyllis

    Many years ago, in my youth, I remember going to the woods seeking the pawpaw with my mother, sister, grandmother and other relatives near Lawrence, KANSAS. Possibly the variety known as Sunflower??? They are a tasty fruit, but it has been so many years since I have had one the memory is vague. I see JB found them near K.C., Mo which is about 40 miles east of Lawrence area.

  • shannon

    Hello – my aunt came over and began eating on this fruit that is growing wild here . but this is off of a vine and not a tree. The fruit looks very similar – from the smooth green outside to the seed filled inside. The inside seeds have a sour taste . The blooms are a white purple and are beautiful. They don’t smell bad and attract all type of butterflies and bumblebees. Does anyone know what this might be?

  • Thrivalista

    Shannon, it sounds like maybe you have a maypop? Try searching on maypop fruit images, and see if that’s what you have. Different color inside than pawpaws, and smaller.

  • Al

    What an informative blog for someone like me who has planted two Paw Paw’s without knowing anything about the plant itself. I live on Vancouver Island and bought two of them a year ago from a company that specializes in exotics called Tropic to Tropic. Aside from being cleaned out by deer last May and then having contractors break their leaders, they both survived the winter because we seldom get frost here. One is 4 ft and the abused one is 2 ft tall. They grow behind a lattice that seems to suit them well and I give them lots to drink. They both have about 10 inches of new growth this year and I will patiently wait a few years for a taste of the fruit as it is so aptly described here.

    Thanks for all the info.

  • Eric

    There are tons of paw paw growing wild around cincinnati ohio! i see them all the time on hikes. they are pretty awesome little trees.

  • jp

    Updating my Apr 2012 post describing the 2011 Ohio Paw Paw Festival near Athens, OH — it’s getting near that time in September again! Note: lots of crafts and entertainment, and EVERYTHING paw paw is at this fest, including sizeable, healthy plants in pots for sale! If you like weekend trips, GO!! I brought 15 paw paws home on Delta in 2011. Everyone at the office loved them! You might get plenty of free seed from waste at the fest by asking. I refrigerated the seed in damp spagnum peat moss until April! Planted 10 shaded pots with three seeds each and got seedlings in all 10 by mid-June. They will reach maybe 12 inches the first year. Transplanted several outdoors at six inches and they seem to be surviving. Only one seed of 15 planted in shady spots in the yard came up, but this is mid-GA with brutal heat and drought, requiring TLC. I’m helping a few friends on creeks get some started. If I can do it, study just a little and you will succeed in growing these, especially from north GA latitude and further north. This time I will drive my truck instead of flying; I plan to buy a few larger plants to cut the waiting time by several years!

  • John

    Eric, I’m in northern Kentucky. Can you say exactly where you’ve seen paw paws?

  • emilie d

    I just had my first taste of paw paw and I must have more! But they are $13 a pound at the market… Want to give any hints on where I can find them in south east PA? I’m in philly, but willing to travel!!

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  • Eileen

    I recently had Paw Paw which I purchased from the farmers market at St. George in Staten Island. It was delicious and I am hooked. Now I want to grow my own even though it takes a long time. Any recommendation on where to purchase small trees in NYC area?

  • Kenny Point

    Eileen, I don’t know of any sources in NYC but there are plenty of Internet based suppliers that will ship Paw Paw seedlings to you. Just try a Google search on pawpaws for sale.

  • leo

    For 20+ years my mother has two large (over 15 feet) and a lot of small paw paw trees in her backyard (3 feet or less). She cant wait each for them to ripen. She lives in Louisville, Ky

  • seth

    if anybody is wondering there is a stand of pawpaws at the mouth of deer creek in Harford county MD

  • jp

    Those who wonder where paw paws grow can find out at this USDA web site: It has a USA-Canada map which breaks down into counties when you click on each state. It shows all counties that have KNOWN stands of native paw paws. There also may be back yard paw paws in many other counties. I now have four back yard plants growing in mid-GA, with four more in pots, all from seed I got at the Ohio Paw Paw Festival (see previous posts). If you get fresh seed, do not let them dry out or they become infertile. Store in a Ziploc bag in some damp peat moss (or maybe a damp napkin) and refrigerate them over the winter. They like that. Plant seeds an inch deep in tall pots or outdoors in early April and they should emerge around early July. Water often. Lots of info has appeared on-line recently to help you grow these persnickety plants. It’s getting easier to find paw paws for sale at nurseries, too, although I have had poor luck with the ones that are shipped leafless and bare-root. Try to find plants sold in pots within driving distance of your home — it’s worth it. Consider paying extra to get plants two feet or more in height, so with luck you won’t have to wait but a couple of years for your first fruit!

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