I’m a sucker for trees with unusual names and features (see also: Gingko Balboa), so a fruit tree that resembles vegetation in the tropics but is indigenous to Southern Ontario is right up my alley. This is the Pawpaw tree, a veritable gem to our region with at least 15 representatives in Hamilton forest areas.
Sometimes called “Poor Man’s Banana,” (or Asimina triloba) this Carolinian species produces yellowish fruits that have a taste similar to bananas–but good luck finding ripe fruits in the wild before the Ontario wildlife, among whom the Pawpaw fruits are a favourite dinner!
Fortunately, finding Pawpaw trees in the wild might not be necessary for you if you would like to plant these small native fruit trees on your property.
Pawpaw Tree features
The pawpaw can grow up to 10 meters (2.5 story house), but it tapers sharply from 2 to 3 meters wide at the base of vegetation to a thin point at the top of the tree, making the tree appear smaller than most other species that grow to the same height. The leaves come to a point, have parallel veins, and grow up to 30 centimeters long. Because of their size, they hang off the branches, giving the tree its tropical look.
The fruit ripens sometime between September and late October, softening when ripe similar to mangoes. The bark of a pawpaw is greyish-brown, and is smooth until the tree begins to reach the end of its lifespan (around 40 years).
Planting Pawpaw trees
Pawpaw trees can work well in an urban context like Hamilton since they are accustomed to partial shade in the forest. Also, since they aren’t big, they can even be planted in smaller yards. They don’t like full sun. In order to produce fruit, pawpaw flowers need to be cross-pollinated by beetles, and the trees need to be genetically unrelated. Trees can be spaced as close as 1.5 meters apart, and they are best planted in the spring, allowing them to put on growth and spread their roots over their first summer.
Keep the roots of your pawpaws wrapped until just before placing them in their holes; their roots dry out easily. Mulch in a 60 centimeter circle around the tree, but be careful not to mulch around the trunk as fungal disease can result. During periods of no rain, water two to three times a week during the first year and only after nine days of drought the second year, after which the tree should be established to survive on its own. Fruit should start to appear 2-6 years after planting.