Every spring, there is something new which I am eager to explore; last year it was geese, and the year before that it was the four sisters garden. This year it's pawpaws.
I don't even know where to start, I just love the personality these plants seem to have. The irksome thing is, whenever I launch into talking about fascinating plants during a conversation, everyone's eyes always seem to glaze over. Even so, pawpaws are outrageously fun, for at least three reasons:
1) They are a tree native to my Canadian woods.
2) They produce fruit that seems way more tropical than can be good for the great white north.
3) The methods that some farmers use to help pollinate the flowers are mildly gruesome, but in the funniest way possible...
Pawpaws are native to the Carolinian forest (apparently a very 'Canadian' term, according to Wikipedia), which reaches into the Southern most part of Ontario from the States. In the US, pawpaws have a larger foothold, where farmers have started to cultivate groves, despite the extremely delicate nature of the fruit. Fresh pawpaws only last for a week tops if you refrigerate them, less than two days if they are left at room temperature. Despite that, they are a delicacy, with their flavour constantly being likened to that of mango or banana.
The fact that such an intriguing fruit is native to my backyard is excessively tantalizing to me, since native and edible plants have been an interest of mine for years. In addition to that, pawpaws are also considered a "vulnerable species" by NatureServe, which only fuels my desire to start cultivating a grove of these trees.
Interestingly, pawpaws actually form groves naturally, sending out shoots through their roots and forming clusters of a single plant. Unfortunately, they need different trees for pollination, so this self multiplication can be a detriment if no separate trees are planted.
As mentioned, the fruit of the pawpaw (technically considered the largest native fruit in North America) has a very tropical flavour, something of a cross between a banana and mango. The texture is supposed to be soft and custardy, perfect for baking and ice cream. Unfortunately, I can't actually comment on the fruit myself, since I've never found pawpaws, either in the wild or in a man-made situation. I still like the idea though.
The biggest downfall of the fruit is its short life span. Lasting a week at most, it's hard to ship, making it a local market prize at its most commercial.
These seemingly tropical fruits are also one of the last harvests to be made before winter sets in, since the fruits ripen at about the same time as leaves are shed for fall. Somehow, it's satisfying that this uncommon berry is the last taste of homegrown freshness before the holidays.
And finally, the part you've all been waiting for, the morbidity of the pawpaw.
Pawpaws are among those plants which make use of carrion insects, those strongly attracted to rotting flesh, specifically for flower pollination. The flowers are a deep burgundy colour, designed to look like raw meat, and the smell of the flowers brings to mind that same raw meat being left out on a hot, sunny day.
So, the flowers of the pawpaw are designed to look and smell like rotting meat; it makes it attractive to pollinators. Turns out, that to make it even more attractive to insects, some farmers have even gone so far as to hang raw chicken necks from the branches. It's like getting all dazzled up for a fancy evening with lots of jewelry, but with meat.
Just picture it. A tree carefully adorned with glistening red ornaments. And in a few months, you get a wonderfully tropical fruit just as winter sets in. I feel like this should be a metaphor for something, I just don't know what.