Do you enjoy mango, papaya or banana? How about cinnamon, melon, citrus or vanilla? If you do, you might enjoy the taste of the pawpaw.
Found throughout Ohio and most of the Eastern United States, excluding New England and most of Florida, pawpaws have gained popularity in recent years. They are sometimes called the hillbilly banana and have been described as a cross between a banana and mango with an aftertaste of melon, vanilla or cinnamon.
Incidentally, more and more people are craving a taste of the uniquely-flavored fruit. So where can you find them, how do you identify them and when should you pick them?
Where to find pawpaw fruit
Pawpaws are that state fruit of Ohio and can be easily found in Ohio’s woodlands. Their fruit is present throughout the summer, but won’t ripen until fall.
Pawpaws are an understory or woodland edge tree. They often grow in areas with deep, moist soil found around stream and river banks, hillside floodplains, ravines and ditches. Although they produce more fruit in the sun, pawpaws also grow in shady areas.
How to identify pawpaws
Size. The pawpaw is typically a short tree, reaching 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide when it grows as an individual.
Bark. Its bark is smooth and thin gray or light brown with light splotches. Its bark becomes more warty and rough with increasing trunk growth.
Foliage. Its thick and bright green leaves grow alternately on short stemlets, tending to cluster towards the ends of branches. The leaves are oblong with tapered bases and pointed tips, stretching about 11 inches long.
Fruits. Pawpaw fruits grow singly or in clusters on short stemlets. They are easily identified with green smooth skin, usually oblong and irregular in shape, ranging from 2 to 6 inches long. Riper fruits may be a paler yellow-green with brown spots and softer to touch.
Pawpaw fruits ripen in late summer. September is prime time for pawpaw picking in Ohio. On one hand, if you’d like to enjoy the rich, custard-like fruits, you better act quickly because they are often consumed by wild animals who enjoy their flavor. On the other, picking the fruit at the right time is paramount.
Pawpaws are ready to be harvested when you can smell their sweet aroma and they have the softness of a peach. If you know where to look, how to identify them and the perfect time to pick them, you’re well on your way to enjoying delicious pawpaws this fall.
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