Deer Country: Pawpaw, a native, deer-resistant fruit tree

Would your landscape benefit from a native, nearly pest-free, fruit tree that deer don’t eat and which produces delectable, custardy fruit and grows well in relatively small, shaded  spaces—but stinks?

In her “A Cook’s Garden” column, “Return of the native? Papaws’ proponents,” in the Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch recommends the native pawpaw (Asimina trilobia) tree, which is spelled “papaw” in the story but appears in other sources as “paw paw” and “paw-paw,” in addition to “pawpaw.”

Damrosch’s suggestion sounded interesting so I surfed to Wikipedia, which supplied additional information: This native of eastern North America produces large, edible fruit that tastes something like banana custard.  In addition, deer, rabbits, goats, and most insects avoid its “disagreeable smelling” leaves, twigs, and bark, which also contain a natural insect repellant.  In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr says the stems have “fetid odor when broken.”

Disagreeable smelling leaves and branches?  What about its flowers?  Wikipedia describes their “odor” as similar to that of “rotting meat.”  

Dirr points out that pawpaw fruit attracts animals, especially raccoons.   Wikipedia adds foxes, opossums, squirrels, and black bears.  Wikipedia adds that the larvae of the zebra swallowtail butterfly eat the tree’s leaves, which give the butterfly lifelong protection from birds and other predators.

Perhaps the reason pawpaws grow mostly in the wild is their odor potential, but apparently the problem isn’t insurmountable because Damrosch’s article lists nurseries that sell young trees.

If you’re interested in this native, deer- and insect-resistant fruit tree, be fully informed before you invest.  Read the Damrosch and Wikipedia articles, which contain photographs, and do additional research.  For  Damrosch, CLICK HERE.  For Wikipedia, CLICK HERE

One Comment on “Deer Country: Pawpaw, a native, deer-resistant fruit tree

  1. We have two pawpaw trees growing adjacent to our back deck in Rockville, Maryland. Though I was worried when I heard that the flowers stink, we have never noticed any particular smell, though the flies that pollinate the flowers like it. They are about 5 years old now and producing loads of fruit. You need to have two non-related pawpaw plants in order for them to be fertile, and they should be no more than 10 feet apart if you want to enable lots of cross-fertilization. Our trees get plenty of light, and are thriving so much that we will have to prune them back severely. When given space, pawpaws can get really big. (Go look at the giants outside the National Museum of the Native American on the Mall.) I highly recommend pawpaw tree husbandry! The fruit is delicious! The only problem we have is that there is so much of it all at once.


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