Lil\’ Paw Paw

When I was very young we would visit my great grandfather in Vivian, LA.  We called him Big Paw Paw (I suppose as opposed to Paw Paw being a grandfather.)  Nowadays, my kids call my father Paw Paw.  It\’s so cute.  So the first time I heard from excited Pennsylvania folks about the resurgence and sudden restoration agricultural interest in the Paw Paw tree (Asimina Triloba) as a native fruit plant, it brought back memories of my great-grandfather who was a wonderful man and a homesteader.  While I don\’t think Great Grandpa Keel could have grown Paw Paws in North Louisiana, I think he would have loved hearing about them or maybe tasting one I brought down for a visit.

\"youngpptree\"The Paw Paw is a very interesting tree.  It is colloquially known as the Indiana banana, Quaker delight or hillbilly mango. The flavor of the fruit is described as mango, banana, papaya, vanilla and more and it\’s consistency almost universally described as custard-like.  It grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 5A through 9 and in its youth is a shade tree but enjoys full-sun after establishing itself.  An interesting way for a plant to dynamically integrate itself into the time niche of a patch mosaic forest.  It enjoys heavy soils and wet feet.  Because honeybees and other common pollinators show no interest in Paw Paw flowers, they rely on flies for pollination and require at least two plants to accomplish fruit. (note that a hand pollination option is available if you are having trouble getting fruit. See this article among others: hand pollinating pawpaws)

So, this weekend I went down to the lower pasture into the creekside corridor.  I dug up two spicebushes to give to a friend who has a native garden and in their place, I planted two Paw Paw seedlings I had acquired at a local organic market.  I took a handful of soil and smelled it. It was moist, musty and very rich.  This land has not been farmed for over a hundred years and probably has been a forest that entire time.  I hope that this is a great place for the young Paw Paw trees to grow up.  I tried a deer-discouragement technique I once heard in a group of putting an array of branches emanating outward from the young seedling.  I was told that the deer would avoid tramping through the mesh not knowing how deep it would go and in fear of becoming stuck.  I hope it works! If not, Paw Paws are becoming so popular that I believe getting a few more plants should be easy.  In fact, I have a few that I\’m going to order for springtime if these successfully resprout.

Here is a popular book about Paw Paw\’s.

While I was there, I planted 100 Ramp seeds in a small patch and 50 a bit deeper into the treeline but not far from patch #1.  I intend to observe these areas with my fingers crossed for delicious ramps (wild leeks)!  Knowing that Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are slow growers and that you have to respect their populace, I intend to let them propagate for about three years before I take the first 5% yield!  Again, we\’ll see. We\’ll see if they love the soil and the shade and the moisture and the temperature.

The idea of getting an early start on our agroforestry operation and trying some things makes me happy.  I\’ve heard it said \”Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can… and I love that!




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