How To Plant Pawpaw Tree Seeds: Tips For Germinating Pawpaw Seedlings
Paw paw trees are native to China and Japan. They grow up to 10 feet tall and have a trunk diameter of 3 inches. Their leaves are small with purple or pink petals, which turn yellow at maturity. The bark is smooth, dark green, and hairy. A single leaf grows from each branch; they are 1/4 inch long and ¼ inch wide.
The leaves are edible when eaten raw, but their flavor is not pleasant. When cooked, they become very bitter.
The seed pods are round and 1/8 inch thick. They contain one seed per pod and ripen to brownish-red color before falling off the tree. The fruit contains two seeds (the embryo) and ripens to reddish-brown color before falling off the tree. The fruit is used mainly as a sweet treat, though it is also eaten fresh or dried.
It takes about three years for the seeds to mature into fruits. After that time, the plants will produce another set of seeds every year until they reach 100-200 pounds. The first generation of paw paw trees was planted in 1869 in China and Japan by Japanese settlers. By 1900 there were over 4 million trees across Asia.
How To Plant Pawpaw Tree Seeds: What You Need
There are several different ways you can grow pawpaw tree seeds. The first one involves getting the seeds wet and then putting them into soil or some sort of moist growing material. This is called ‘water stratification’ and it makes it much easier for the seeds to sprout (you can find out how by reading “How to Stratify Pawpaw Seeds”).
Another way to sprout pawpaw tree seeds is by using the ‘paper towel method’. This is a cheap and easy way to get pawpaw seeds sprouting within a month. Here’s what you need:
Packet of seeds or one fresh fruit (with seeds inside)
Sterile growing medium (vermiculite, perlite, etc. – optional)
Plastic bag (optional)
Water bottle (optional)
First of all you should sterilize your growing medium (optional). You can do this by putting it in the oven set at 510 F or thereabouts for two hours. If you forget to do it earlier, then no worries, you can do it now.
Take the paper towels and fold them over several times so that they form a thick pad (about an inch or two thick). Make several of these.
Next, take your pawpaw seeds (or fresh fruit) and make several holes in the growing medium using a pencil or something similar. Put one seed in each hole and cover with a little of the growing medium. Then put one pad (folded paper towel) over the top and put it in a plastic bag. You can also put it in a dark place if you wish (closet, cupboard, etc).
Keep the bag at around 80-90 degrees F. Every couple of days, check to see how damp the paper towels are and water them lightly if they need it. It usually takes about a month for the seeds to sprout, though some will take longer.
When the seedlings emerge, which may be in a couple of weeks or a month, you can plant them in soil if you wish. They should be ready for the next step in growing pawpaws.
Once the pawpaw seeds have sprouted (this usually takes about a month), you can plant them in soil if you wish. You can also continue to grow them in the same pot using the same method as before (folded paper towels).
When you plant the pawpaw seeds in soil, it’s best to use a pot with no drainage holes at the bottom and with fairly loose soil. This allows the water to drain away from the seed rather than sit near it and cause it to decay.
The seed should be planted about 2-3 times deeper than it is in size. For instance, if the seed is about a quarter inch (.25″) in size, then you should plant it about an 1/8″ deep.
Put the pot in a warm place (70-80 degrees F.) out of direct sunlight and keep the soil damp (not wet) until you see the seed sprout. It should start growing in about 2 to 4 weeks. You can then move it to a brighter location.
Planting Pawpaw Trees Outside
You can plant your pawpaw trees outside once there is no more danger of frost. It’s best to give the plant a few weeks in a pot first so that it becomes more accustomed to the conditions outside.
Dig a hole about twice as wide and just as deep as the pawpaw tree’s root ball. If the soil is compacted, loosen it first. Add some compost or organic material to the bottom of the hole and mix it in with the soil.
Remove the plant from its pot and set it in the hole. Back-fill the hole with soil and pack it firmly around the roots. Add more soil until the hole is nearly full. Add a little water at the bottom of the hole and then fill the rest of the way with water.
The plant should be watered once every one to two weeks unless there is rain. Be careful not to over or under water it. The best way to tell is to stick your finger in the soil up to the first knuckle. If the soil feels almost wet, then it doesn’t need watering. Be careful not to over water.
The best way to tell is if you squeeze a handful of soil, it should form a small ball that cracks open when you let go.
Once the plant is established (after a couple of years), it can be planted a little deeper and a little wider every year until it reaches its full size. Fertilize the plant at the start of the growing season (early spring) with an organic fertilizer.
Most pawpaw trees will produce fruit for their first few years. These harvests tend to be fairly small, but by the time the tree is around five or six years old, the harvests become more abundant and produce larger pawpaws.
You can tell if your pawpaw tree is ready to be harvested by looking at the stalk. If it bends over with a slight twist, it is ready to be picked. Gently pull the pawpaw from the tree in such a way that the stalk is removed so it can later be planted and grown into a new pawpaw tree.
Pawpaws are ripe when they come off the tree easily. If picked too early they won’t be good, and if left on the tree too long they will spoil.
Harvesting When There is No One Around
Most people who like to harvest pawpaws have figured out that it’s a lot easier to do so when there are other people around. Since pawpaw trees aren’t common, you probably won’t have many other people around when it is time to harvest.
It’s difficult to pick a pawpaw that is the perfect ripeness. If you wait too long, the pawpaw will become over ripe and fall off the tree on its own. If you try to pick it before it is ready, it might not be ripe enough and won’t taste very good.
The best way to tell if a pawpaw is ripe enough to pick is by looking at the stalk. If the stalk is slightly bent and twisted, it should be ready. If the stalk is standing straight up, the pawpaw isn’t ripe yet and if it is laying on the ground, the pawpaw is overripe and won’t taste good.
To pick a ripe pawpaw, gently pull it from the tree in such a way that the stalk is removed so it can later be planted and grown into a new pawpaw tree.
Pawpaws should not be refrigerated, but they can be placed in a bucket or bag full of cool water. They should be eaten within a day or two.
Harvesting When There is Snow on the Ground
For those of you who don’t have many pawpaw trees, or live in a place where they don’t grow at all, you can mail order pawpaws from a variety of sources. They can also be found in some specialty fruit stores and markets. The books listed in the reference section contain information about where to mail order pawpaws as well as other information about them.
How to Identify a Pawpaw Tree
If you are pretty sure that a tree is a pawpaw tree, but aren’t absolutely certain, here is a quick way to verify that it is in fact, a pawpaw tree. Gently scratch the trunk of the tree with your thumb. If latex (“spit”) appears on your thumb, then the tree is a pawpaw tree.
Common Name: pawpaw, Indian banana, Hoosier banana, paw paw
Scientific Name: Asimina triloba
The word pawpaw is an example of a “back-formation”, which is a word formed by removing sounds from an earlier word (in this case, papaw). Papaw was formed by shortening papau, a Muskogee (Creek) word adapted from the Spanish papa (“popo” in Creek). The Spanish word comes from the name “Uapay” used by the Taino people of Hispaniola.
In the Kitchen
The pawpaw fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. Its flavor is nothing short of divine. The texture is described by some as a cross between a mango and a banana, but with its own unique, tangy flavor.
Pawpaws are one of the finest fruits in North America. There are those who say they are the finest. They are sweet, but not too sweet. Flavorful, but not overly so. They have a delicate balance of flavor that is almost impossible to describe.
Pawpaws can be eaten both cooked and raw, though they are best when eaten raw.
The simplest way to preserve pawpaws is to make jam. Pawpaw jam is simply pawpaw pulp and sugar boiled until it jells. Pawpaw preserves are made in a similar manner, with the addition of some citrus fruit for flavor.
Pawpaw Ice Cream
This recipe makes about a quart of pawpaw ice cream.
2 cups pawpaw pulp (see below)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
About 4 tbsp butter (depending on how much you like)
You will also need an ice cream maker. A non-electric one will work, but not as well.
Put the pulp, milk, and sugar in a pot. Bring it to a simmer, stirring regularly, until the sugar dissolves Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and butter Allow to cool to room temperature then pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Making the Pulp
Pawpaws must be harvested when ripe. This means that you have to keep an eye on them as they grow. They ripen to a deep melon color and usually fall off the tree with a gentle tug.
When you have ripened pawpaws, cut them open and scoop the pulp out. You need to separate the seeds from the pulp and juice. This is easily done by hand, as pawpaw seeds are small and the flesh fibers from around them easily.
You can also use a screen to separate out the seeds. Place some of the pulp and seeds into a screen basket. Use a spoon to scoop the pulp and juice onto the screen, then rinse the spoon in water and pour that over the pulp and seeds. Continue this until all the pulp is in small enough pieces to go through the screen. Then place a bowl underneath the screen, pull it up, and collect the pulp that fell through.
You can use the seeds and fiber in the compost or feed them to animals.
The pulp can be frozen until you have enough to make into a batch of pawpaw ice cream or preserves. The pulp will keep for months in the freezer.
There are no real safety concerns when handling pawpaws, unless you are allergic to them. If you are allergic, avoid handling them altogether.
Pawpaws have very small seeds and will stain clothing if the fruit is damaged. It is best to wear old clothing when handling them.
Possum grapes ( Vitis rotundifolia)
Possum grapes are a small, obscure vine that has been little noticed by most people, save those who live in the deep south or have an interest in wild plants. However, they are widely used by Native Americans in the areas where they grow. Their name comes from the fact that they are a favorite food of opossums.
The possum grape has a deep purple, almost black color and is a good source of fruit for an area that has few other choices. They are usually found growing along stream banks and in valleys where the soil is fertile and moist. They tend to prefer shaded areas and are hardy enough to survive under the canopy of larger trees.
Possum grapes tend to grow in clumps and can take many years to reach their full size. They cannot tolerate intense sunlight and will wither away if they are moved from their location. Because of this, they rarely grow in a size larger than ankle high.
Possum grapes have a very “wild” taste and most people find them too tart to eat straight. However, when cooked into jams and jellies or made into wine they can impart a very deep purple color and a rich flavor. They are rarely found for sale anywhere and you may be the only one on your block to have tasted them.
Possum grape vines can be identified by four-part leaves that alternate along the vine. The underside of the leaves are silver and hairy, while the vine itself is smooth and almost rubbery feeling. The flowers are white, very small, and grow in clusters. The fruit is a deep purple color when ripe and grows in bunches. Each grape is about the size of a small blueberry.
Possum grapes must be cooked before eating and can cause a serious rash if you just break the skin. In most areas there are native plants that can be used to make a tea that will prevent this, but it is always best to be safe and just cook the fruit.
When collecting possum grapes, you should always look for any sign of animals. They are usually pretty easy to spot since the possum has a tendency to nibble at them as they grow. In fact, they will often get a little loopy from eating so many and leave behind a trail of chewed up foliage and seeds as well as possum droppings.
If you find any animal sign, you will want to look a little further until you find a good thicket of grapes that have no nibbling. If you take the grapes back to your settlement, it would be wise to take the time to cook and can the possum grapes as soon as possible since they do not keep long and will eventually spoil.
Possum grapes contain a good amount of natural sugars and can be turned into jellies, preserves, wines, or even liquors if you have the right recipe and equipment. They do not contain much juice and are very tart, so a large amount must be collected in order to make jellies and jams.
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile Possum Grape:
IDENTIFICATION: Vitis rotundifolia. Vine that can climb to 20 feet high, but usually much shorter. Leaves are alternating, 4 parted with 3-9 lobes, to 1.5 inches long. Flowers are white, ¾ inch diameter in loose clusters.
Berries dark purple when mature, ¾-1 inch diameter.
TIME OF YEAR: Varies in response to weather, but usually October into December.
ENVIRONMENT: Along the Eastern United States, and into the Great Lakes states, wooded stream banks and rich bottom lands.
METHODS OF PREPARATION: Cooked into jams and jellies. Wine is also made from it.
Sources & references used in this article:
Morphological development of the North American pawpaw during germination and seedling emergence by CH Finneseth, DR Layne, RL Geneve – HortScience, 1998 – journals.ashs.org
Effect of growing media on seed germination and seedling growth of papaya cv. Red lady by RL Bhardwaj – African journal of plant science, 2014 – academicjournals.org
Desiccation-induced dormancy in papaya (Carica papaya L.) seeds is alleviated by heat shock by CB Wood, HW Pritchard, D Amritphale – Seed Science Research, 2000 – cambridge.org
Preliminary hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic activities of the aqueous seed extract of Carica papaya Linn in Wistar rats by AA Adeneye, JA Olagunju – Biol Med, 2009 – pdfs.semanticscholar.org
Clonally propagated and seed-derived papaya orchards: I. Plant production and field growth by MMM Fitch, PH Moore, TCW Leong, LAY Akashi… – …, 2005 – journals.ashs.org
Germination in Papaya, Carica papaya L. by M YAHIRO – Mem. Fac. Agr. Kagoshima Univ, 1979 – ir.kagoshima-u.ac.jp
Effect of growing media on seed germination and seedling growth of papaya cv.’Red Lady’. by RL Bhardwaj – Indian Journal of Agricultural Research, 2013 – search.ebscohost.com