Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in she pockets,Pickin’ increase paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

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In this classic folk song, the pawpaw patch was “way down yonder.” It appears the job is expanding, coming to be the leading shrub along floodplains of significant river systems.

Recently, I had actually the great fortune come ride mine bike from Harpers Ferry, WV to Pittsburgh, PA, first along the C&O towpath and then the an excellent Allegheny passage (GAP) trail. One thing that inhabited my mind as i rolled along was why there to be so numerous pawpaws follow me the way, almost to the exemption of plenty of other acquainted understory species.


Pawpaws frame one the the countless campsites along the C&O towpath.

If you room not familiar with the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) or partaken of it fruit, you should come ~ above a hike through my wife, Garnett, and also I sometime in the Fall. Garnett has actually the uncanny ability to odor ripe pawpaw fruit the is quiet on the tree or on the ground. We will be wade along, and also she’ll say, “go offer that tree a shake.” together I execute so, ripe pawpaws come raining down. They room a delicious long walking snack, other than that her hands are fairly sticky because that the remainder of the outing.

Recently, we were paddling ~ above the local reservoir, and she smelled the ripe pawpaws native the canoe! together I gave the waterside tree a shake, she paddled to and also fro, trying come maneuver the canoe to catch the falling fruit. Sadly, they every plopped into the water on every sides the the boat. No pawpaws the day.

So, pawpaws on no an unfamiliar site, especially along streams, in floodplains, and even on hill slopes. However, on the C&O, they it seems to be ~ to have actually asserted themselves to an inexplicable degree.

When i arrived home, i did a little investigation and additionally consulted some aboriginal vegetation gurus top top the subject. I was interested to find out that pawpaws room the only local representative from the Annonaceae family, which has largely tropical origins. The produces the largest native fruit of north America.

The fruit of course deserve to be eaten raw (sticky hands and all) or made right into ice cream, pie filling, “Poppaws” (baked mixture the mashed pawpaws, milk, sugar, egg, and also allspice), and even a nice dried white wine. Some research has even indicated that the fruit stays clear of cancer and can create a safe organic pesticide (Tabler, 2018; Bilton, 2015). Regionally, pawpaws are additionally known together the American Custard to apologize or West Virginia Banana.

Elizabeth Matthews, Botanist because that the national Capital region Network, composed an short article on pawpaw prominence in locations such as the C&O and other regional parks in the D.C., MD, WV area. Matthews points the end that deer (unlike mine wife, who is dear but not deer) execute not prefer pawpaws, and also this could be due to the odor of the branches and also twigs. This, alone, provides a pawpaw a large competitive advantage over types that are desired by deer, such as Red Maple and Black Gum. Years of fire suppression may have additionally helped select for pawpaws, because the species is not an especially fire-adapted.


This is just one of the graphics indigenous the Elizabeth Matthews article (NPS, 2017). The chart reflects the density over two different time periods of deer resistant Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) versus deer-preferred species, black color Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) and Red Maple (Acer rubrum). The bottom line: Pawpaws up, others down. https://www.nps.gov/articles/pawpaw.htm

As for the Appalachian people song’s referral to the “pawpaw patch,” the is exactly how they grow. In fact, in biological terms, the “individuals” in ~ a patch can be taken into consideration a single plant, because they have an interconnected source system. In order to develop fruit, pawpaw flowers have to be pollinated from flowers in an additional patch, with flies and beetles being several of the common pollinators (Matthews, 2017).

Is pawpaw dominance a trouble for ours future forests? Matthews makes the point that types that do not display up in the sapling great will likely not make it into the canopy, and the future canopy is most likely to covers the most leading saplings. She renders it clear that notions of future canopy space speculative in ~ this point, yet low-growing pawpaw forests can be component of the mix, listed deer browsing proceeds to exert its affect on varieties composition.

Other vegetation gurus i consulted express some issue for pawpaws being leading in floodplains. Pawpaw patches create deep shade v a sparse ground covering layer, so soil erosion might be one issue. However, others sang the pawpaw’s praises, expressing that pawpaw prominence can be expected in locations underlain through calcareous rocks, such as the Catoctins. Pawpaws certainly fill vital niche in the they reliably flourish in the shrub layer, and also their natural range is actually dwindling in spite of their regional abundance.

Whether pawpaw prominence bodes fair or ill because that the future, the trees are a satisfied companion once cycling the C&O towpath. Ns should additionally mention the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) appeared to be nearly as leading in the shrub layer, and also both species offered a range of fall coloration as I traversed southeast to northwest.

Finally, pawpaws were not the only vegetative companion on the long trek to Pittsburgh. Below, I have composed one-liner tributes to some of the Phyto friends who retained me firm along the journey:

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) – paragon of forthrightness. . .straight of spine and also head held high.

Boxelder (Acer negundo) – like a gangly, awkward teenager v sprouts and also shoots coming out every which-way. . .you picked difficult over pretty, and I honor you.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) – seeing your creamy crown bright on a sunny autumn afternoon renews my belief in the Almighty.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) – very tiny person’s rise wall.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) – together for your prolific production of round yellow-green husks, I have turned mine ankle much more than as soon as on those, but glad the call was v foot quite than head.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – in the understory, but not under-stated. . .I would miss out on your significance if ns went one step without you.

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Red Maple (Acer rubrum) – floodplain’s friend, and to the one on the south side of mine house, a summer savior and in the Fall, my rake’s raison d’etre.