Did you know that there a growing number of cultivated varieties of Paws Paws? Often thought of only as a wild, foraged fruit, for decades growers have been selecting, breeding, and propagating the best trees for larger fruits, greater fruit to seed ratios, and improved flavors. We, at POP, currently have 8 different varieties planted in our Learning Orchard! We went for many varieties because you get a wider array of flavors and other plant characteristics, as well as the opportunity to propagate these varieties to share with our partners across the city.

Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a North American deciduous tree in the custard apple family (Annonaceae). They are native to the eastern United States and parts of eastern Canada. Asimina is the only genus in the Annonaceae family that lives in temperate climates; the rest of the plants in that family are either tropical or subtropical. Asimina triloba has the most northern range of all the species in the Annonaceae family. The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is the largest and most well known of the 13 species of the genus in North America. Of those 13, 11 prefer very warm weather and have ranges rarely extending northward of Florida or coastal Alabama. Their ranges do not overlap with Asimina triloba. One southern USA species, Asimina parviflora, does overlap in range with Asimina triloba. This species is smaller than pawpaw in both its flower and its woody growth. Asimina parviflora is more shrublike, about a third as tall as pawpaw.

Many regions celebrate the pawpaw in seasonal festivals, like the Ohio Pawpaw Festival.

Pawpaws are related to and taste similar to many beloved tropical and subtropical fruits including soursop, sweetsop, cherimoya, and custard-apple. In POP’s experience in working with a variety of populations in Philadelphia, we have been please to discover that the native pawpaw can effectively bring a taste of home to many individuals from around the world!

The distribution of pawpaws in the USA
Source: Virginia Tech Dendrology


Pawpaws form clonal colonies in the understory of a hardwood forest. Clonal colonies are a group of genetically identical plants that grow in the same area and all come from a single parent plant. This means they often sucker and spread, forming a pawpaw grove over time. In their natural habitat, they can be found in well-drained, fertile bottomlands and also along the slopes of floodplains.


Though there is a wide range of varieties to choose from, most pawpaw trees share similar characteristics. The major difference is in their fruit flavor, size, color, yield, seeds, and overall quality.

Pawpaw trees are smaller trees, about 15 to 20 feet in height. Although they naturally have a bushy shape, they can be pruned and trained into a single trunk and also be kept somewhat smaller through annual pruning. The tree is pyramid-shaped and often is growing near other pawpaws (their identical clone, in fact), forming a pawpaw grove. This can be managed by cutting back or digging out any suckers.

Pyramidal tree form
Source: POP

The bark is light grey and smooth. The leaves are simple, alternate, and spirally arranged. They are typically large (10-12 inches long) with a smooth margin, wide base, and pointed tip. The new leaves that emerge are lighter green and glossy while the older ones are a dull darker green. The leaves typically droop downward.

New leaves emerging at the end of the branch
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The flowers possess both male and female parts, are about 1- 2 in. wide, and maroon when mature. The flowers emerge in early spring around the same time as the new leaves appear. Various species of flies and beetles are attracted to the yeasty smell of the flower and its maroon color, resembling carrion, and are the primary pollinators of the flowers. Pawpaw trees are not self-fertile, so make sure to plant another pawpaw of a different variety nearby to ensure cross-pollination and fruit production.

The flower has 3 sepals and 6 petals
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The maroon color and smell attracts flies and bees
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The fruit is the largest edible fruit native to the U.S. and Canada. It is also referred by other names including the ‘Banana of the North’, ‘Hoosier Banana’ and the ‘American Custard Apple’. They have provided delicious and nutritious food for indigenous Americans, European colonizers, and wild animals in North America for a long time. After the industrialization of our food system, much knowledge of native fruits was lost and the relatively short shelf life of pawpaws made them a poor fit for large scale distribution. However, pawpaws are now gaining a resurgence in the local food movement, with pawpaw orchards popping up in addition to wild fruit foragers!

Seeds inside pawpaw
Source:Wikimedia Commons

The fruit is a large, yellowish-green berry with large, black, lima bean-shaped seeds. The fruit gives off a unique, fruity aroma that’s somewhat similar to a banana or a mango. Ripe pawpaw fruits are ready when they easily come off the stem and are soft to the touch. They are often harvested off the ground after they fall, but they can be picked before they are fully ripe and placed in a brown paper bag to ripen. The skin color of ripe fruit on the tree ranges from green to yellow, and brown spots are also a good sign of ripeness. They are actually at peak ripeness when they start turning brown. Fully ripe pawpaws last only a few days at room temperature, but can be kept for a week in the refrigerator. Ripe pawpaw flesh, with skin and seeds removed, can be pureed and frozen for later use. The fruit can be eaten raw, put in smoothies, puddings, or baked items. Treat it as you would a banana!

Wild pawpaws often have a strong flavor, beloved by some but an acquired taste for others. Many of the cultivated varieties have a milder, sweeter flavor that most first time tasters will find delicious.

A wheelbarrow full of ripening pawpaws, turning from green to yellow to brown. (Source: POP)


Most of the dozens of paw paw cultivars currently available have been selected through intentional breeding efforts, most prominently by Neil Peterson and Kentucky State University. A few varieties were selected and propagated from exceptionally tasty or productive wild trees. Below are a list of all the varieties currently growing at POP’s Learning Orchard. They are separated based on whether they were discovered in the wild or selectively bred.

Wild Varieties

  • Overleese
  • Pennsylvania Golden

Bred Cultivars

  • Potomoc
  • Allegheny
  • Wabash
  • Rappahannock
  • Shenandoah
  • Hannah


POP has an interactive map on our website that shows all the trees, shrubs, and brambles growing at the Learning Orchard. You can scroll through and find the specific pawpaw varieties if interested in learning more. All of our pawpaws are in the same row intermixed with nitrogen fixing shrubs and herbaceous plants.


Source: Edible Landscaping


This is an older variety that was selected from the yard of the Overleese family in Rushville, Indiana by W.B. Ward in 1950. It was selected as the winner of the “Best Fruit” category at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival in 2011. This variety is a wild variety that allowed for the selective breeding of many other popular pawpaw varieties.


This variety is noted for its large oval fruit, creamy, yellow-orange, flesh, and good seed to pulp ratio. It holds for a little longer after picking, compared to other varieties. It has medium productivity. The fruit tends to ripen earlier in the season. It has a mild flavor compared to other pawpaws, making it better for people not keen on the intense pawpaw flavor.



This name is shared by several varieties selected by John Gordon from trees in Pennsylvania. There are four cultivars known as “PA Goldens”, with #4 being the most common type sold at nurseries.


The fruit ripens in late September– early for pawpaws– making it ideal for planting in regions with cold winters and a short growing season. It is known for its abundant yield; It can produce crops of 25-50 pounds fully mature. The fruit is extra sweet and is ideal for baking and cooking. It has a golden pulp with a creamy and watery texture and rich flavor. It has that classic strong wild pawpaw flavor that people either love or hate. It does not store well due to its soft texture, so it’s best to eat within a few days of picking.



Potomoc was bred by Neal Peterson, part of his “Peterson’s Pawpaw” collection. The story is he grew around 1,500 seedling–from a historic collection he tracked down– and observed them over a 20 year period and picked the seven best cultivars, Potomoc being one of them. Each cultivar is named after a river with a Native American name. Potomoc is named after the Potomac river.


The tree tends to be more vertical than spreading due to its apical dominance. Potomac is very fleshy with few seeds and more yellow compared to other pawpaws. It is also has one of the largest fruit sizes of all the pawpaws. Because of its size, it can split easily after a heavy rain. The flavor is sweet and rich with a firm and smooth texture. The tree has medium productivity and is a medium to late season producer. For proper pollination, plant another pawpaw variety nearby.



This is part of the “Peterson’s Pawpaw” collection, named after the Allegheny river.


This variety is loved by many pawpaw enthusiasts. The fruit is smaller with a high seed-to-fruit ration but it has a great balanced flavor and medium-smooth texture. The flavor almost has a hint of citrus to it. The tree is every productive and tends to over-bear so needs to be thinned; but if well-managed, it is an outstanding fruit producer with excellent fruit. It should produce up to 35 pounds per tree when fully grown. It produces fruit mid-season and they come in bunches of twos and threes.



Wabash is part of “Peterson’s Pawpaws” collection and named after the Wabash river.


This variety is harder to find at nurseries due to its high failure rate with grafting and slower growth. Despite this, many pawpaw enthusiasts revere this variety for its excellent flavor. The variety offers large fruit with creamy, rich pulp and a somewhat firm texture.



Part of the “Peterson’s Pawpaws” collection, Rappahannock is named after the Rappahannock river.


This variety is distinctive due to its horizontally-held leaves and overall symmetrical shape. This cultivar yields fruit early in the season. The fruit are highly visible when ripe. The fruit is small to medium in size and keeps well after harvesting. The flesh is firm and has a simple, not-too-strong flavor profile.



Part of the “Petersons’s Pawpaws” collection, Shenandoah is considered the “queen” of the collection. It is named after the Shenandoah river.


It is a consistent fruit producer with large fruits and few seeds. The fruit has a fragrant, sweet flavor with a custardy texture. It is good first pawpaw to try if you’re new to pawpaws due to its lighter flavor. It produces over a spread out period that can last over a month. The fruit often comes in a single fruit format rather than in a cluster. This is beneficial for the human picker and also for reducing any potential fungal contaminants that can spread within a cluster.



POP received this variety from Ted Weeden in Harleysville PA, a local paw paw grower and breeder profiled in a blog post by POP.


Hannah is very fleshy and more yellow compared to other pawpaws. It is also has one of the largest fruit sizes of all the pawpaws. The flavor is sweet and rich with a firm and smooth texture. The tree has medium productivity.


Edible landscaping: https://ediblelandscaping.com/products/overleese-pawpaw

For the Love of Pawpaws by Michael Judd







The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a healthcare professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused. 

This POP Blog was written by Orchard Assistant Simone Shemshedini with help from Co-Executive Director Phil Forsyth.

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