The pawpaw is a Native American tree for partial shade bearing fruit flavored like bananas and can be found in Native American planting zones. The fossil record indicates that the pawpaw’s forebears established themselves in North America millions of years before the arrival of humans. It’s was also a favorite of Native Americans and one plant they wanted to find in their planting zone. The Native Americans loved the pawpaw and introduced it to European explorers: the DeSoto expedition of 1540 reported encountering tribes that cultivated the fruit by planting the trees in their planting zone.
In 1736 Quaker botanist Jon Bartram and Peter Collinson wanted to plant a tree in their planting zone and arranged for specimens to be sent from to England. European settlers from the East Coast westward to Michigan, Oklahoma and Louisiana named towns, creeks and island after the pawpaw in their planting zone. Yet, the only way most Americans know about the pawpaw found in Native American planting zones is from a traditional folk song.
Found in certain planting zones near creek banks and river bottoms in the eastern United States, the pawpaw is a small tree whose large droopy leaves and slender branches give it a decidedly tropical appearance. The resemblance is more than coincidental because it is the only temperate member of the Custard Apple family found in planting zones. This is widespread throughout the tropics and contains many popular fruits found in the planting zones of South America.
Since 1900, numerous individuals, including the renowned botanist David Fairchild, have collected superior clones from the wild and worked at improving the pawpaw. Roughly a dozen named varieties exist and are found in planting zones. Most notable are the Sunflower, the Overleese and Taytwo. For years the focus of this fruit has been among members of the Northern Nut Growers and the North American Fruit Explorers. These organizations have been vital perpetuating pawpaw interest especially among Native Americans. Without their interest and activity the pawpaw would be no more advanced than it was in 1916. Research by both professional and amateurs is underway to improve plant breeding, flavor analysis, and tissue culture, as well as culinary and medical issues. With investment in research and development, the pawpaw will become a modern fruit crop.
The pawpaws found in planting zones from Northern Florida to eastern Nebraska have provided delicious and nutritious food for Native Americans.
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