May 17, 2014

In the Garden with Rachel #4: Pawpaw Trees

I hope you are all enjoying these little posts about our Baltimore City backyard. This week, I thought I'd share another slightly unusual plant we have in our backyard, the pawpaw. It a unique fruit as it is somewhat mango-like in appearance and from a tropical family of trees but is native here in the Mid-Atlantic and in other temperate areas of North America. They are found most often in the wild near water, but it is possible to plant them in the backyard with success. We bought ours from a nursery that specializes in native plants, but they are available online. It grows well in moist soil which is perfect for our damp-prone yard.

We have four pawpaw trees, we had planted two but didn't have much luck with them blossoming or fruiting so we bought two more for better cross-pollination. This year each (and one in particular) are all blooming quite a bit so we are hoping they fruit. Last year we had a lone pawpaw, but it fell off/was eaten by birds before we could harvest it.

Pawpaws are insect-pollinated but not generally by the typical insects, the blossoms' smell is faint but of rotting meat (not noticeable to humans) so it attracts blowflies and carrion beetles. We were given the hint to hang rotting meat in the trees to attract pollinators! We haven't done that yet, but I think we will, gross as that sounds! We really want some pawpaws this year. The trees are big and strong but if not properly pollinated we won't be able to make any of the exciting recipes we've been thinking of for the last few years. There is a real dearth of exciting pawpaw recipes out there and I'd love to create and share some.

Pawpaws were quite a colonial favorite, Jefferson had some planted at Monticello and apparently Washington was a big fan as well. I'd love to try to make some colonial-style sweets with them or perhaps a pawpaw shrub.

Interesting in learning more? NPR has a good article here about pawpaw foraging and a few recipes and a guide to where to find pawpaws (from 2011 so it may be slightly outdated)