The oddly named pawpaw tree has nicknames that may be even stranger, such as Poor Man's Banana, Hoosier Banana and Papaw. The pawpaw is a member of the Annona family of plants, also referred to as the Custard-Apple family, with most of its relatives being tropical species. Pawpaw produces the biggest edible fruit of any plant native to the United States. The pawpaw is a landscaping tree that you may find appealing for some of its features, with the fruit as a bonus.
The pawpaw does not grow very tall--a 30-foot specimen is considered large and most grow to heights between 12 and 20 feet. The trunk is around 8 inches in diameter. Pawpaw leaves can grow to a foot in length and the flowers are as wide as 2 inches. The fruit, which can weigh as much as a pound, is up to 6 inches long. It contains two separate rows of large seeds, which may remind you of lima beans in size and shape.
The oblong leaves of the pawpaw are a dark green shade and droop on the branches. The leaves make the tree appear to be a tropical species. In the autumn, the leaves will turn to yellow before coming down from the branches. The leaves emerge in the latter portions of spring after the flowers develop. The flowers have a velvety texture, are dark brownish in color and hang upside down. The fruit grows in clusters, with as many as nine individual fruits growing together.
Direct sunlight harms the development of a pawpaw tree. Filtered sun is important to this species as it grows during its first two years, after which full sun is not a problem. The pawpaw tree thrives in rich and fertile soil that drains reasonably well and is somewhat damp. Water your pawpaw tree in the growing season. High-potassium fertilizers applied twice per year will enhance growth and overall pawpaw health. Prune the dead branches and those that seem to grow out of place.
Pawpaw trees typically prove quite problematic to pollinate. The trees need an unrelated pawpaw for cross-pollination and usually only flies and beetles will accomplish this task, making it sometimes necessary for you to hand-pollinate your pawpaws if you desire fruit.
Once you have an established pawpaw tree you may develop more since new trees can grow from the root sprouts. The young pawpaw trees have a very fragile root system. When transplanting a pawpaw seedling, keep it in its container or root ball with the soil still around the roots as you transport the tree to its site. Place the tree in its hole with as much of its soil as you can and then fill in the hole. Water a new pawpaw generously in its initial year. Transplant a pawpaw in the spring after its buds open to give it the rest of the year to adjust.
The cultivars of the pawpaw tree include the Mitchell, Prolific and Overleese, all of which produce a tasty fruit. The Taytoo cultivar does not have fruit as large as some pawpaw hybrids but bears large quantities of it. The Sunflower pawpaw has fruit with smaller seeds than other pawpaws and has a reputation as being able to pollinate itself.