The pawpaw is one of the few truly native fruit trees in North America. When ripe, the edible fruit has been described as having a soft, custard-like texture with a taste somewhere between a banana, a pineapple and mango. The fruit is enjoyed by wildlife and humans alike. The tree itself is also quite attractive and can make an interesting addition to the landscape.
The leaves of the tree are oblong and slightly pointed. They measure from 8 to 12 inches long and between 4 and 8 inches wide with smooth edges and deep alternating veining. The color of the leaves is medium-green. The flowers are about 2 inches long and purpler. The tree bears edible fruit that is lobe-shaped, elongated and between 3 and 6 inches long. The fruit usually forms in clusters of 3 to 10 on a branch.
The plant is often found in the wild as an under-canopy dweller. It has a medium growth rate, adding between 1 and 2 feet of new growth per year. The pawpaw prefers temperate climates and grows best in hardiness zones 5 through 8 in the United States, requiring warmer, humid summers and cooler winters. Pawpaw trees are not self-fruitful and require another pawpaw tree of a different cultivar to cross-pollinate the plant, to set fruit.
The pawpaw tree usually has one trunk and grows to around 30 feet high and 15 to 20 feet across. The shape of the tree is a slightly rounded pyramid. The large leaves tend to droop. The foliage is open to moderately dense, depending on growing conditions
Pawpaw trees grow best in full sun and will develop denser growth and provide optimal fruit yields. However, they can handle dense shade, where the plant form will be more open. Rich, humusy soil that is well-draining and slightly acidic is best for this plant. The tree prefers moist conditions and will handle wet soils well. Propagation is generally accomplished by seed and layering of cuttings. It is important to grow several compatible varieties of pawpaw to ensure pollination.
First and foremost, the pawpaw tree is grown for its unusual and delicious fruit. It can also be planted as a specimen tree in the landscape. River banks and other waterlogged areas can also be stabilized using pawpaw trees.