AskDefine | Define papaw

Dictionary Definition



1 small tree native to the eastern United States having oblong leaves and fleshy fruit [syn: pawpaw, papaw tree, Asimina triloba]
2 fruit with yellow flesh; related to custard apples [syn: pawpaw]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A tree (Carica Papaya) of tropical America, belonging to the order Passifloreae produing dull orange-colored, melon-shaped fruit.

Extensive Definition

This page refers to the U.S. pawpaw in the genus Asimina. In some other parts of the world, the name pawpaw is applied to the unrelated tropical fruit papaya (Carica papaya).
Pawpaw (Asimina) is a genus of eight or nine species of small trees with large leaves and fruit, native to eastern North America. The genus includes the largest edible fruit indigenous to the continent. They are understory trees found in deep fertile bottomland and hilly upland habitat. Pawpaw is in the same family (Annonaceae) as the custard-apple, cherimoya, sweetsop, and soursop, and it is the only member of that family not confined to the tropics.


The name, also spelled paw paw, paw-paw, and papaw, probably derives from the Spanish papaya, perhaps due to the superficial similarity of their fruit. Pawpaw has numerous other common names, often very local, such as prairie banana, Indiana (Hoosier) banana, Kentucky banana, Michigan banana, and Ozark banana.


The pawpaws are shrubs or small trees, reaching heights of 2 to 12 m tall. The northern, cold-tolerant common pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is deciduous, while the southern species are often evergreen.
The leaves are alternate, simple ovate, entire, 20 to 35 cm long and 10 to 15 cm broad.
The fetid flowers are produced singly or in clusters of up to eight together; they are large, 4 to 6 cm across, perfect, with six sepals and petals (three large outer petals, three smaller inner petals). The petal color varies from white to purple or red-brown.
The fruit is a large edible berry, 5 to 16 cm long and 3 to 7 cm broad, weighing from 20 to 500 g, with numerous seeds; it is green when unripe, maturing to yellow or brown. It has a flavor somewhat similar to both banana and mango, varying significantly by cultivar, and has more protein than most fruits.
  • Bark: Dark brown, blotched with gray spots, sometimes covered with small excrescences, divided by shallow fissures. Inner bark tough, fibrous. Branchlets light brown, tinged with red, marked by shallow grooves.
  • Wood: Pale, greenish yellow, sapwood lighter; light, soft, coarse-grained and spongy. Sp. gr., 0.3969; weight of cu. ft. 24.74 lbs.
  • Winter buds: Small, brown, acuminate, hairy.
  • Leaves: Alternate, simple, feather-veined, obovate-lanceolate, ten to twelve inches long, four to five broad, wedge-shaped at base, entire, acute at apex; midrib and primary veins prominent. They come out of the bud conduplicate, green, covered with rusty tomentum beneath, hairy above; when full grown are smooth, dark green above, paler beneath. In autumn they are a rusty yellow. Petioles short and stout with a prominent adaxial groove. Stipules wanting.
  • Flowers: April, with the leaves. Perfect, solitary, axillary, rich red purple, two inches across, borne on stout, hairy peduncles. Ill smelling.
  • Calyx: Sepals three, valvate in bud, ovate, acuminate, pale green, downy.
  • Corolla: Petals six, in two rows, imbricate in the bud. Inner row acute, erect, nectariferous. Outer row broadly ovate, reflexed at maturity. Petals at first are green, then brown, and finally become dull purple and conspicuously veiny.
  • Stamens: Indefinite, densely packed on the globular receptacle. Filaments short; anthers extrorse, two-celled, opening longitudinally.
  • Pistils: Several, on the summit of the receptacle, projecting from the mass of stamens. Ovary one-celled; stigma sessile; ovules many.
  • Fruit: September, October. Cotyledons broad, five-lobed.


Pollinated by scavenging carrion flies and beetles, the flowers emit a weak scent which attracts few pollinators, thus limiting fruit production.
Larger growers sometimes locate rotting meat near the trees at bloom time to increase the number of blowflies. Asimina triloba is the only larval host of the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly.


Cultivation and uses

The pawpaw's chosen home is in the shade of the rich bottom lands of the Mississippi valley, where it often forms a dense undergrowth in the forest. Where it dominates a tract it appears as a thicket of small slender trees, whose great leaves are borne so close together at the ends of the branches, and which cover each other so symmetrically, that the effect is to give a peculiar imbricated appearance to the tree.
Recent research has shown that the consumption of tropical Annonaceous fruit may lead to the onset of atypical Parkinson's Disease in humans. A subsequent study has suggested a possible link between similar phytochemicals as found in parts of the tree and the onset of symptoms in rats. Further research is currently underway to investigate the relationship between Annonaceous compounds and neurodegeneration. No specific research has been conducted on the non-tropical Common Pawpaw (Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal) variety of Annonaceous fruit found in Canada and the Eastern United States.
papaw in German: Papau
papaw in Spanish: Asimina
papaw in French: Asiminier trilobé
papaw in Dutch: Pawpaw
papaw in Japanese: ポーポー
papaw in Polish: Asymina
papaw in Portuguese: Asimina
papaw in Romanian: Pawpaw
papaw in Russian: Азимина
papaw in Yoruba: Ìbẹ́pẹ
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