Spotlight on Pawpaw

By Jack Ruttle

The tropical cherimoya has been called the world's most delectable fruit. Its close relative, the hardy pawpaw, is a North American native with very similar flavor. Yet somehow, the pawpaw remains virtually unknown.

However, researchers at Kentucky State University have created a large pawpaw germplasm collection with which they can build a breeding program. They now have 2,800 pawpaw trees planted at four locations. These include collections from more than 70 sites throughout 17 states in the pawpaw's native range, plus about a dozen named varieties.

Pawpaw grows between USDA Zones 5 and 9 with a chill requirement of between 400 and 1,000 hours, depending on the variety. It is typically a small tree, with large, glossy leaves that turn yellow in fall. It likes deep, moist soils. Though it can grow in deep shade, it fruits best in full sun. The best pawpaws known have large 8-inch-long fruits that weigh 8 to 16 ounces each. Two of the finest varieties (you'll need two for cross-pollination) are 'Overleese' and 'Mitchell'. Plants are available through the mail.

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