When it comes to edible fruit in Virginia, most people think of apple orchards and blackberries. However, Virginia is home to a unique fruit that is naturally abundant here in Richmond and often hidden in plain sight. What is this mysterious fruit and tree of the same name? The pawpaw. Pawpaws line the James River and are usually ready to harvest around late August into September.
The pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) is an understory tree that grows in well-drained, fertile soil. In Richmond, they’re usually found close to water. Native American tribes were known to cultivate the pawpaw, and colonial settlers were such big fans of the fruit that they often grew it on farms and made it into various desserts. Most say the fruit tastes like a hybrid of a banana and a mango, but the flavor can vary widely.
I recently purchased a copy of “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit” by Andrew Moore for my grandmother while she enjoyed an extended stay with my family in Virginia. As a native of California, she’s always been fascinated with our state’s native flora and fauna. A few weeks ago, we explored Richmond’s urban forest to track down pawpaw groves that might prove bountiful once the fruit ripens. It was truly a special experience getting to walk a rugged trail with my 90-year-old grandmother, watching her discover this tree and its fruit she had just read so much about. Luckily we found quite a few fruit-bearing trees and will be sure to check on them in the coming weeks!
As with any type of foraging, make sure you know what you’re looking for. Never eat something you’re unsure of, and never overharvest a location. Leave some for other foragers, both human and animal!
Here are some pawpaw resources, if you’re interested in learning more:
National Park Service on pawpaws