Asiminia triloba

A profile of the Hardy Pawpaw.
Philip (Big Leaves) Bell, 22 Marbury Road, Lacey Green, Wilmslow, Cheshire, U.K.
Chamaerops No. 6, published online 23-10-2002

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For those like myself, who enjoy the unusual, here is a plant deserving wider recognition in temperate Europe.

The American Pawpaw, or Hardy Pawpaw, Asiminia triloba, is no relation to the Carica species, but belongs to another group of tropical fruits, the Annonaceae, or Custard Apples. It is also known as the Custard Banana or Poor Man's Banana, and was eaten by the North American Indians and the early settlers in that country.

It is a small deciduous tree or large shrub found in the south east of the United States. It grows to 3.5 metres in height and its leaves are 20-30cms in length and up to 15cms in width. It will grow in almost any soil, but should be planted in a sunny position. It is also a good subject for pot culture. This method will allow some control of flower and fruit setting and protection during periods of inclement weather.

The 5cm diameter flowers are produced either singly, or in clusters of two or three, in spring before the leaves emerge. At first the petals are green but they turn dark red and eventually become purple.

The fruit matures in autumn. They are cylindrical and between 7.5 and 15cms long and when fully developed they are green with a heavy bloom. The pulp is initially greenish-white with an offensive foetid odour and taste but as they ripen, the skins turn brownish-black and the pulp changes to a creamy white or yellow (resembling custard in texture and colour) and is succulent and rich.

No special pruning is required except in the early years in order that a conveniently sized and shaped bush is produced.

Propagation is by seed in spring at a temperature of about 20°C or by layering. Air layering may be the best method since it transplants poorly.

Chiltern Seeds (Cumbria, U.K.) have supplies of the seed, and supermarkets sometimes have the fresh fruit on the shelves, a good source of fresh seed, and tasty, too!

Chiltern Seeds are also offering seed of the Mountain Papaya or Chamburro (Carica stipulata), the Common Pawpaw (Carica papaya), and the Toronchi (Carica chrysopetala). These South American species are worth adding to any listing of exotics.

Architectural Plants carries Caricapubescens another of the Mountain Pawpaws.

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