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Asimina Triloba - (L.)Dunal.

Common Name Papaw
Family Annonaceae
USDA hardiness 5-8
Known Hazards The seed contains a toxic alkaloid and is poisonous[106, 274]. The leaves can cause dermatitis in a small number of sensitive people[222, 274]. Other reports say that handling the fruit can cause dermatitis[200, 227].
Habitats An understorey tree of woodlands, growing in deep rich moist soils of river valleys and bottomlands, often forming dense thickets[229].
Range South-eastern N. America - New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas and Nebraska.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Asimina Triloba Papaw

Asimina Triloba Papaw


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Bloom Color: Purple. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Asimina Triloba is a deciduous Shrub growing to 4.5 m (14ft) by 4 m (13ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 5. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen in October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs). The plant is not self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Annona triloba.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; South Wall. By. West Wall. By.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit
Edible Uses:

Edible fruit - raw or cooked[2, 3, 11, 46, 62, 99]. A very good size, it can be up to 16cm long and 4cm wide[82, 200]. Of variable quality, some forms (with orange skins) are exquisite with the flavour of banana custard whilst others (with yellow, white or dark brown skins) can be unpleasant[57, 85, 183]. Another report says that the white fruits are mildly flavoured and later ripening than the orange fruits[227]. The fruit can also be used for making preserves, pies, ice cream and other sweet desserts[183]. The fruit falls from the tree in autumn and is then stored until fully ripe[227]. The fruit can cause gastro-intestinal upsets for some people[274].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antiemetic  Diuretic  Emetic  Laxative  Narcotic  Parasiticide

The fruit is used as a laxative[222]. The leaves are diuretic[222]. They are applied externally to boils, ulcers and abscesses[4, 222]. The seed contains the alkaline asiminine, which is emetic and narcotic[222, 227]. They have been powdered and applied to hair to kill lice[222]. The bark is a bitter tonic[4]. It contains the alkaline analobine, which is used medicinally[227].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Fibre  Insecticide  Parasiticide  Wood

A fibre from the inner bark is used for making strong rope and string[61, 82, 227, 257]. The seed has insecticidal properties[222]. A yellow dye is made from the ripe flesh of the fruit[229]. Wood - light, soft, weak, spongy, coarse grained[82]. It weighs 24lb per cubic foot[227]. It is not used commercially[229]. Landscape Uses: Border, Pest tolerant, Specimen, Woodland Forest garden - a good understory tree. Shelter for wildlife [1-2].

Special Uses

Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Pawpaw is a forest understory tree. Prefers a rich loamy soil with plenty of moisture and a sunny position[1, 134, 160]. Full sun to part shade. Pawpaw is shade tolerant and would prefer some afternoon shade from other trees or perhaps the shade of a building. Spreads by root suckers to form colonies, so give it room to spread (nfs.unl.edu). Plants are hardy to about -20°c according to one report[184], whilst another says that they are hardy to -35°c when fully dormant[160]. The papaw produces a delicious edible fruit which is a potentially commercial crop[61]. The wild-collected fruit is often sold in local markets in America[82]. The tree commences bearing in 4 - 6 years from seed and yields up to 30 kilos per tree[160]. There are some named varieties[183]. The mature fruit is rarely seen in Britain[182], only ripening after a long hot summer[200]. A small tree growing against a south-facing wall at Bristol Botanical Gardens had a small crop of immature fruit in early September 1996 (following the hot summer of 1995) - this was the first time it had been seen to bear fruit[K]. Flowers are formed in the leaf axils of wood produced the previous summer[82, 229]. Established plants resent root disturbance, the best plants are obtained by planting them out into their permanent positions as young as possible though young plants should be given some protection for their first year or two[200]. The leaves emit a heavy unpleasant odour when crushed[82, 229]. Plants are untroubled by pests or diseases[160]. Special Features:North American native, Attracts butterflies, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms. The plant is heat tolerant in zones 8 through 6. (Plant Hardiness Zones show how well plants withstand cold winter temperatures. Plant Heat Zones show when plants would start suffering from the heat. The Plant Heat Zone map is based on the number of "heat days" experienced in a given area where the temperature climbs to over 86 degrees F (30°C). At this temperature, many plants begin to suffer physiological damage. Heat Zones range from 1 (no heat days) to 12 (210 or more heat days). For example Heat Zone. 11-1 indicates that the plant is heat tolerant in zones 11 through 1). For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. The plant growth habit is suckering with suckers sent up away from the trunk from rhizomes, roots, or stolons [1-2]. For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. The root pattern is a heart root, dividing from the crown into several primary roots going down and out [1-2]. The root pattern is a tap root similar to a carrot going directly down [1-2]. The root pattern is suckering with new plants from underground runners away from the plant [1-2]. Form: Rounded, Upright or erect. Flowers are strongly protogynous, self-incompatible and require cross-pollination. However, some trees may be self-compatible; it is an excellent idea to plant two or more trees for cross-pollination.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[200]. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 15°c[134]. Stored seed requires stratification, it has embryo dormancy and an impermeable seedcoat and can take up to 18 months to germinate[113, 134]. Dried seed quickly loses its viability. As soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for t least their first winter. If trying them outdoors, plant them into their permanent positions in early summer once the plants are more than 15cm tall. Consider giving them some protection from winter cold for their first winter outdoors. Layering.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Also known as: Annona triloba, Asimina, Asiminier, Asiminier Trilobé, Asiminier de Virginie, Banane du Pauvre Homme, Custard Apple, Dog-Banana, Papaye Américaine, Papaye American, Papaye Nordique, Pawpaw, Paw Paw.

Afghanistan, Australia, Britain, Canada, Europe, North America (native), Tasmania, USA [1-4]. A Missouri native small understory tree [2-2]. The USDA database lists Asimina triloba (pawpaw ) as native to some of the L48 (Lower 48 States), and Canada.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Asimina trilobaPapawShrub4.5 5-8 SMSNM423

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


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Readers comment

Steve Hawkins   Fri Sep 19 08:58:42 2003

Only having access to a number of other references enabled me to realise that you are not talking here about what most people would call pawpaw, but one of the many plants called 'custard apple' or, as herbalists might have it 'pawpaw seeds'. You really should add real pawpaw aka Papaya Carica papaya to your list or at least point out in your 'Pawpaw' listing that this is a different plant altogether and certainly not hardy to -35C (is anything hardy to -35C?). I was checking your otherwise excellent seeming site to see what you had to say about Carica papaya seeds, and was initially surprised to read your poison warning until realising your pawpaw was not papaya (nor indeed that 'Pawpaw seeds' weren't papaya seeds - something you should really point out!). Papaya has many uses as you will know, and has long been used as a source of the tenderising enzyme papain. I have heard other people remark that papaya seeds could be used as a peppery spice like nasturtium for eg, but was surprised to find no reference to this in my Oxford Book of Food Plants. My trusty 'Mrs Grieve' - though old, still my first point of reference for its sheer scope and depth of info and 'lore' on so many plants - tells me the seeds contain a 'glucoside' (glycoside?) caricin, and a 'ferment' myrosin, which together react to form a 'pungent body' reminiscent of mustard oil. Presumably this is why she goes on that 'the seeds cannot be detected from capers'. There is plenty more you could tell your readers about real pawpaw Carica papaya - and Mrs Grieve is a good place to start bearing in mind that some of the chemical and plant names will have changed since it was written. Though, I believe your initial intention was to list useful plants hardy in the British Isles, where confusion could exist with other species you should point this out, especially where there are conflicts of edibility/toxicity between species sharing a common name and which general public would not realise were referring to different plants. Indeed, your database should be allowed to expand to gradually expand to include useful plants from all over the world - a modern version of Mrs Grieve's 'Modern Herbal' which is long overdue for a 21Century update! In this 'globalised' world we need to know about the uses of all the plants, eventually, if we are to appreciate what a wealth of biodiversity we are depriving future generations of when we carelessly clear the forests and other wild places away. Sincerely, Steve Hawkins 01582 721907 (Luton Beds)

Michael Stites   Fri Apr 30 04:46:51 2004

When I was younger, I discovered that our family farm in eastern Kansas had a sizeable grove of these trees. As luck would have it, this was during autumn when the novel fruits of this species were ripe. They have a very pungent odor and can, as I remember, grow to be quite large. Last fall, I decided to learn more about A. triloba, so I did some research and found that Kentucky State University conducts a large research program. As noted on their website, they are trying to develop the fruit as a commercially available crop. I believe that parts of the tree have been found to contain anti-cancer constituents, as well.

Link: Kentucky State University Pawpaw Information Website Pawpaw research and breeding program

Thomas   Sun Jun 25 2006

i believe it's "pawpaw" and not "papaw"

Paul d'Aoust   Sat Apr 5 2008

I just thought I'd point out an error: being an understory plant, the pawpaw actually prefers shade, and in fact doesn't like full sun. In addition, most cultivars are self-sterile, though a couple (e.g., PRIMA 1216) are self-fertile. (I believe this was posted previously, as seen in a cached version of this page http://www.ibiblio.org/pfaf/cgi-bin/arr_html?Asimina+triloba .)

Pawpaw fruit facts botanical and cultural information

Links to many other sites with useful info on this and other rare fruits.   Nov 4 2010 12:00AM

Two good crops from a plant in a lightly shaded greenhouse (in London) after two hard winters - no surprise considering the climate of New England (which is central to its natural range) - hot summers and cold winters. Best described as a 'custard banana' as in Simmons' 'Growing Unusual Fruit'. Seedlings need to be started in very deep pots and transplanted to pots at least 30cm deep ASAP. If space is limited it's a good idea to use 30cm lengths of drainpipe as a kind of 'ring culture system' potting on to 30-45cm lengths of soil pipe until the plants are big enough to justify one of the bigger 'long toms'.
California Rare Fruit Growers

USDA Pawpaw profile   Feb 16 2012 12:00AM

This plant IS commonly called a pawpaw. That's the thing about common names, they're not reliable identifiers - sometimes several different species have the same common name.
USDA Pawpaw Asiminia triloba

   Jan 17 2014 12:00AM

Hi, Steve. I thought I'd point out that (in North America at least) 'pawpaw' always refers to Asimina triloba, whereas 'papaya' always refers to Carica papaya. So while I agree that they should probably make note of this in their description, I think they should point out that it's a dialectical issue so it varies by region.
Wikipedia's disambiguation page on the different uses of the name 'pawpaw'

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