Finally, I tasted it! The famous breadfruit tree! Even though I’ve been growing it in the garden for almost 15 years, mine is just starting to flower and hasn’t produced its first “loaf” yet! But, thank you life! I have good friends who have contacts! And it is a delicious fruit!

I’m just salivating looking at the photo! Sweet tasty memories of the America pawpaw! Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For more and more Nordic gardeners, the dream of growing a famous breadfruit tree (Asimina triloba) has become a reality. The America pawpaw is indeed a tree that could be described as exotic, because of its fruit which looks like a small mango. In fact, the plant is native to North America and it grows naturally in the eastern United States and southern Ontario. It turns out that the plant is hardier than we thought and, we must admit, global warming probably allows us to cultivate it further north.

My young pawpaw tree in 2006. He is now 15 feet tall. Photo: Julie Boudreau

The American pawpaw, also called breadfruit or northern mango, is a very interesting small tree for the edible garden. It is also a favorite for the laidback gardener that I am, because it’s easy to grow and is not susceptible to attack by insects and diseases. Although it is native to wetlands and swampy areas, it grows without difficulty in dry, sandy soil. It is also a tree that tolerates well the slight shade of larger trees.

The foliage of the America pawpaw is quite spectacular on its own. These broad, late-blooming leaves can be up to 1 foot (30 cm) long. In the fall, they take on a beautiful golden yellow color, which is quite magnificent.

The beautiful autumn coloring of the foliage. Photo: Julie Boudreau

In its natural environment, the plant forms clumps from these suckering roots . In my own garden, I have had my second sucker in 15 years! These pull out quite easily from the ground, simply by yanking on them. I couldn’t say that would be problematic.

How to Obtain Pawpaw Fruits?

Flowering, burgundy in color, appears very early in the spring, before the leaves emerge. Flowers appear along two-year-old stems. Even though the flowers are hermaphroditic (they have both male and female organs), the America pawpaw is generally self-sterile. It therefore takes two plants, ideally of different varieties, to produce fruit. The other option is to find friends who grow the plant, in order to trade flowers!

The flower, which is dark burgundy in color, is quite unique! They appear very early in the spring and are pollinated by insects. Photo: Ogrod Botaniczny Uniwersytetu Wroc?awskiego at Wikimedia Commons

The resulting fruit resembles a bun, 3 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) long. Each flower can give rise to several buns, up to seven! These are berries that contain several hard seeds. The flesh is soft and its taste is exquisite! The flavor is like a happy mix between mango and banana.

Two fruits in the process of being devoured! Photo : Ogrod Botaniczny Uniwersytetu Wroc?awskiego at Wikimedia Commons

Interesting Varieties

At the time when I got my precious plant, everything on the market was grown from seedlings of the species. Since then, many varieties have crossed the American border. The hybridization of the America pawpaw took place mostly in the states of Kentucky, Georgia and Michigan. These hybrids are usually more productive, the fruit is bigger, or the flavor is better! For the northern gardener, the ‘Campbell NC-1’ cultivars, developed in Ontario, and the ‘PA Golden’ selections bred in New York state seem to be of most interest. You will find ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Mango’ quite easily, but dozens of varieties remain to be discovered. Most America pawpaws are hardy in USDA zone 4 or 5.

In short, it is a great discovery and an essential addition to the gourmet garden.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

4 comments on “The Pawpaw Fruit, Not Bad!

  1. I am growing to paw paw trees right now, but they haven’t fruited yet. I’ve only tried a paw paw once that I got it out of natural market place, but it was really old. The problem is they don’t keep. So I didn’t think they were very good. I hope my opinion changes once I actually taste of fresh one. so I didn’t think they were very good. I hope my opinion changes once I actually taste a fresh one.

  2. Funny, here in West Virginia we have them everywhere. There’s about a dozen trees on the back of our property. Deer eat them right off the tree.

  3. Wow, I was not aware that anyone else was interested in this fruit. Nor was I aware that some know it as ‘breadfruit’. Those who are familiar with it seem to take it for granted. Those who are unfamiliar with it seem to be ‘very’ unfamiliar with it, likely because those who are familiar with it take it for granted, so do not brag about it much. I got a few seedlings growing outside right now. I hope that they are productive enough that I do not eventually acquire cultivars. I prefer to experience the originals.

  4. Jason Harvey

    Thank you Julie! We just learned of paw paw ‘recently’, and were offered a few fruit and a couple of the young ‘suckers’ just randomly dug up summer 2022. (We have some paw paw seedlings I purchased last spring as well). Also purchased 3 larger trees from Grimo Nursery in Niagara early this spring, for that genetic diversity.

    Just wanted to comment from our reading and LIMITED experience:
    1. For propagation, dig around the shoots to sever the umbilical from the mother plant weeks ahead, perhaps the fall prior to digging them up, so the plant can recover before digging them up – ours were near goners, but rallied back.
    2. There are long tap root(s). Propagating when young shoots is better than larger plants dug out. Our dug trees were 12” tall or so.
    3. The shoots are far excelling over the seedling this year (maybe the variety, maybe they just have an extra year/roots under their belt. Our 6 foot trees are distressed and I have read they may suffer a higher mortality rate. See how they do in the next couple years, and if they pull thru.
    4. Babies NEED shade!!! The young tree leaves are more susceptible to burning. Shade the young trees for the first year or two (as they would in the wild), before they break thru the ‘canopy’ into the full sun.
    5. They are LATE starters. Be patient before they bud in spring. And they are hardy! Ours were heavily sampled over the winter, likely by rabbits, but the 2” rabbit-pruned trunks, smaller than a pencil diameter survived. (We dug two twig goners out to replace with the large spring trees – but unceremoniously threw them in a couple one gallon pots. To our surprise, they leafed out earlier and more vigorously than the ones in the ground – likely the sun on the pot, heating the soil up more than the ones in the cold ground!

    Just my 2 cents (maybe only worth a penny, due to our limited practical, mostly academic reading, with this native species).


    Jason Harvey

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