Pawpaw

Family: 
Annonaceae (custard apples)
Description: 

A large shrub to small tree with a slender trunk and broad crown; grows in colonies.

Leaves alternate, simple, 6–12 inches long, 3–5 inches wide, broadest above the middle; margin lacking teeth; upper surface green; lower surface pale; emitting an odor when bruised.

Bark light ash to dark brown, thin, smooth, later becoming warty with blotches.

Twigs slender, olive-brown, often blotched, smooth, becoming rougher when older, often with a warty surface. Emits a disagreeable odor when crushed; terminal bud velvet brown, lacking scales; flower bud rounded, overwinters on previous year’s twig.

Flowers March-May; perfect (with male and female parts in same flower), dark reddish-purple, solitary, drooping, about 1 inch across, appearing before the leaves and with an odor of fermenting purple grapes.

Fruits September-October. Banana-shaped, cylindrical, 3–5 inches long, green at first and yellow when ripe; pulp sweet, edible, with custardy texture.

Size: 
Height: to 30 feet; grows in colonies.
Habitat and conservation: 
Grows in dense shade on moist lower slopes, ravines, valleys, along streams and at the base of wooded bluffs. Produces suckers from the roots, forming groves or thickets. The leaves turn yellow in autumn and remain on the tree late into the season. Pawpaw is a member of a tropical family and has no close relatives in Missouri. In nature, associated with sweet gum, river birch, sycamore and roughleaf dogwood.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide, except for some of the far northern counties.
Status: 
This species is becoming increasingly popular as a landscaping tree and fruit-bearing ornamental.
Human connections: 
The sweet fruit is eaten raw or baked. The wood has no commercial use, but the inner bark was woven into a fiber cloth by Native Americans, and pioneers used it for stringing fish. Pawpaw extract is being studied as a possible cancer-fighting drug. There are many historical medicinal uses.
Ecosystem connections: 
The fruit is eaten by numerous bird species and by squirrels, opossums, and raccoons. Sometimes these creatures find the pawpaws before human pawpaw hunters do, which is one reason many people are planting their own pawpaw trees!