The Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) is a small deciduous fruit bearing tree that is native to North America. They grow wild in much of the eastern and midwestern portions of the country, but not in the extreme North, West or South.
Image Citation (Photos 1 & 2): Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org
The leaves are green in the growing season and an elongated oval shape ranging in size from 10-12 inches long. In the fall the leaves change to a rusty yellow in color. When crushed the leaves have a strong unique odor, often compared to that of a bell pepper. The leaves contain toxic annonaceous acetogenins, making them impalatable to most insects. The one exception is the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly.
The flowers have 3 prominent triangular shaped green, brown or purple outer petals. The flowers are insect pollinated, but fruit production is often limited by the small number of pollinators that are actually attracted to flowers very faint scent.
Image Citation (Photo 3): Wendy VanDyk Evans, Bugwood.org
The fruit is a green-brown in color and a curved cylindrical shape - the shape of the fruit is very similar to a fat lima bean. The trees produce an almost tropical fruit with vanilla or banana/mango flavors. When ripe, the fruit’s soft flesh is very creamy in texture. The large seeds are easy to remove, making the pawpaw an excellent pick for fresh eating. The short shelf life makes it an uncommon find in most market areas. Fresh fruits of the Paw Paw are generally eaten raw, either chilled or at room temperature. However, they can be kept only 2–3 days at room temperature, or about a week if refrigerated.
Many animals and insects make use of the Paw Paw tree and it's fruit. The flowers attract blowflies, carrion beetles, fruit flies, carrion flies and other beetle varieties. The fruits of the Paw Paw are enjoyed by a variety of mammals, including raccoons, foxes, opossums, squirrels, and black bears. Larvae of the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly, feed exclusively on young leaves of Paw Paw. Chemicals in the Paw Paw leaves offer protection from predation throughout the butterfly's life remaining in their systems and making them unpalatable to predators. Whitetail deer do not feed on the Paw Paw.
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