Maryland Native Plant: Paw-Paw
Author: S. Baker
If you’ve grown up in the Maryland/Virginia area you may have heard of our October “native plant of the month”: the paw-paw tree (Asimina triloba). This small, deciduous tree (or large shrub) is found from the mid-Atlantic region and west to Missouri. Because they are a short, understory tree, they tend to grow most often in low-lying, moist, shady places but have been found anywhere from river bottoms to hill tops.
The dark green leaves of the paw paw tree are broad and oblong shaped, reaching lengths of 12 inches, and grow in groups at the end of the branches (if you want to get sciency, they are simple, alternate and spirally arranged obovate-lanceolate leaves). In the Maryland region, the leaves will begin to turn yellow in mid-September, which is also a good indication that the fruits (also called paw-paw) are ripening. The paw-paw fruit is kidney shaped, can grow up to 6 inches long and will be found in clusters much like bananas. The paw-paw are North America’s largest, edible, native fruit, and are normally ready to be picked between August and October, depending on the region. They will start out as green and will eventually change to yellow, brown, and then a purple/black color. These sweet, custardy fruits are ready to eat when they feel soft like a peach, but the skin itself is not edible (nor are the seeds inside). Many people describe their almost tropical flavors as being a cross between a banana, mango, and pineapple, yum!
Next time you are out on a hike, keep your eyes peeled for this awesome native plant!
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