From the ground up: It's harvest time for pawpaw

This is a time of abundance when it comes to local food. For proof, just check out the listings at the end of this column. There are several events that involved tasting and celebrating local food in Iowa. Yesterday, I had local sweet potatoes and sweet corn with a pasta dish containing local tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and garlic. In my fridge, waiting for another meal are local eggplant, beets, bell peppers, kale, watermelon and zucchini. Soon, I will have some Iowa grown pawpaws. Don’t know what that is? Patrick O’Malley, Iowa State University Extension outreach commercial horticulture specialist, will fill you in.

Q: What is Pawpaw?

A: Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is the largest tree fruit native to the United States. This fruit, known commonly as the “poor man’s banana,” may reach more than a pound in weight. Pawpaws grow wild in the hardwood forests of 25 states in the eastern United States, ranging from northern Florida to southern Ontario (Canada) and as far west as eastern Nebraska. In Iowa, it is found in the southeast and southwest parts of the state. Pawpaw is the only temperate member of the Annonaceae family, which includes the delectable tropical fruits, sweetsop, soursop and atemoya.

Pawpaw is a small, deciduous tree that may grow 15 to 30 feet high and 8 to 10 feet wide. In the forest understory, pawpaw trees often exist in clumps or thickets, which may result from root suckering or seedlings developing from fruit that dropped to the ground from an original seedling tree. In sunny locations, trees typically assume a pyramidal shape, straight trunk and lush, dark-green, long, drooping leaves that turn gold and brown during fall. Leaves occur alternately and may be 10 to 15 inches long and 3 to 5 inches wide.

The maroon colored flowers emerge before leaves in mid-spring and may reach up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. A single pawpaw tree rarely will produce fruit. It is best to have a second tree close by to ensure a fruit crop. Pollination is by flies, beetles and butterflies. Fruit set in the wild is usually low and may be pollinator — or resource-limited, but under cultivation, tremendous fruit loads have been observed in Iowa and other states.

Fruit are typically 1 to 5 inches long, 1 to 4 inches wide, and weigh between 1 to 20 ounces. They may be borne singly or in clusters that resemble the “hands” of a banana plant. This highly aromatic fruit has a ripe flavor that resembles a creamy mixture of banana, mango and pineapple and can replace banana in many recipes. Generally they ripen from early September through early October. The fruit is nutritious and compares well with apples and oranges (a new study on its nutritional content is currently being conducted). When ripe, skin color ranges from green to yellow, and the flesh ranges from creamy white to bright yellow or shades of orange. Shelf life of a tree-ripened fruit stored at room temperature is two to three days. With refrigeration, fruit can be held up to two weeks while maintaining good eating quality. Within the fruit, there are two rows of large, brown, bean-sized, laterally compressed seeds that may be up to an inch long.

Q: Where can I get more information on Pawpaw?

A: Kentucky State University has been in the forefront in pawpaw research and has been the lead school in the Pawpaw Regional Variety Trial. It also maintains a website for pawpaw information at I have grown pawpaws at a trial site in Louisa County for 15 years.

Q: Where can I find Pawpaws?

A: You can find pawpaw fruits, while in season here:

  • Savor the Flavor Farm Crawl, Sigourney, today. Fruit may or may not be ripe. Info:

  • Iowa Valley Food Coop,

  • USAronia Berry Field Day, Homestead, Sept. 21 Info:

  • Red Fern Farm, a nursery in Louisa County, (, or 319-729-5905) sells the trees.

  • Local garden centers sometimes carry the trees as well. Ask the produce manager at your grocery store if they plan on stocking the fruit.


  • Reversing the Plow: Farm Fields to Prairie, 2 p.m. today at Indian Creek Nature Center, 6665 Otis Rd SE, Cedar Rapids. Join naturalist Jan Aiels for a saunter on the reconstructed prairies. $4 to $6. In the 1980s, the Nature Center began reversing the plow to create prairie habitat for both wildlife and environmental education. Learn about the process and enjoy the resulting diversity of beautiful grasses, flowers and wildlife. Register:, (319) 362-0664

  • Blue Zones Project Kickoff Event! Monday, September 9th, 5pm at Concert Hall at College Community (located at Prairie High School). This exciting event will showcase local entertainment, provide information on all the Blue Zones Project activities, present interactive displays, and share programs you can be part of. Author of the book Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer, Dan Buettner will be speaking with Cedar Rapidians and sharing his stories of the secrets to well-being and longevity. Join us for a great night!
  • Growing through Grief workshop, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at First Congregational Church UCC, 361 17th St. SE, Cedar Rapids. Barbara Koch, Mercy bereavement coordinator, and Becki Lynch, Linn County Master Gardener, will share how gardening can help ease us through loss and difficult transitions, what the plant world teaches about growth and resiliency, and how to get started on creating your own memorial garden in honor of a loved one, discuss how gardening can help the grieving process. Contact: Marissa Haas, (319) 377-9839,
  • Fruit TreeKeepers, 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Sept. 24 at Prairiewoods, 120 E. Boyson Rd., Hiawatha. Learn more about urban fruit and nut trees. Each class will have a volunteer service component and a light dinner will be provided. $30. Contact: Heath Hupke, (319) 373-0650 Ext 119. Register:
  • Food Preservation 101, 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Iowa City Public Library 123 S. Linn St., Iowa City. Presented by Rachel Wall with Iowa State University Extension. Learn the basics of safe canning, freezing and dehydrating of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Free.
  • Cover Crop Field Visit, 5 p.m. Tuesday at 2260 340th St. SW, Oxford. With help from Jim Fawcett with ISU Extension, James Meade has been experimenting with cover crops and a variety of methods to protect a nearby stream from erosion.
  • Freezing and Drying Your Bounty Class, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Marion Public Library, 1095 Sixth Ave., Marion. Linn County Master Gardener Phil Pfister will show you how to safely process your produce and provide the tips and techniques that will ensure success when freezing and drying fruits, vegetables and herbs. Free. Contact: (319) 377-9839
  • Culinary Walk, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 11th5:30pm-8pmGraze through downtown Iowa City’s favorite local food spots. Sample tasty treats created by Atlas, Basta, Devotay, New Pi Co-op, Motley Cow, and 126. Tickets sold at, New Pioneer Co-op stores, and Hy-Vee First Ave. location. $25/person, $15 with current student ID, $30 day of event.
  • A Place at the Table Film Screening Thursday, September 12th Coe College, Kesler Hall in Hickok Hall, Cedar Rapids6pm-9pmFifty million people in the U.S.—one in four children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine the issue of hunger in America through the lens of three people struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two kids; Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford. Ultimately, A Place at the Table shows us how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation, and that it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides — as they have in the past — that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all. Trailer & Website.
  • Make “Local” Last All Winter, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Prairiewoods, 120 E. Boyson Rd., Hiawatha. Rachel Morey will discuss how to can, dry, ferment and store surplus harvest. Rachel will explain the “math” of how much to grow, how much to process and what preservation techniques work best for each crop. She will demonstrate water bath canning of tomato sauce (delicious for salsa or spaghetti sauce), the fermentation of kimchee, the drying of fruits and herbs, and the role of root cellaring. $15. Register by Monday at, (319) 395-6700.
  • “Under the Glass” Fall Bulbs Workshop, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Lowe Park Greenhouse, 4500 N. 10th St., Marion. Learn the proper techniques for planting fall bulbs for spring blooms and how to force fall bulbs for spring blooms from Linn County Master Gardeners. Participants will be able to take a container with bulbs home. $10. Register: (319) 377-9839 or
  • Harvesting Energy: Wind and Solar Power Saturday, September 14th, 2-5pm at Radiance Dairy (1745 Brookville Rd, Fairfield) Explore how Radiance Dairy “harvests” alternative energy, which is created or captured on the farm with a 40 kW wind turbine, solar-thermal hot water heater, solar-powered pumping system for livestock watering and geothermal heating and cooling system. The Thickes also save energy because their cows graze and thus harvest their own forage. This event is a follow-up to the Thickes’ popular 2011 field day, with the wind turbine now erected. For additional information, contact Francis or Susan Thicke at 641.919.8554 or at to School Eco Booth at Iowa Soul Festival Saturday, September 14th at 405 E. Washington St., Chauncey Park, Iowa CityFind out more about the Iowa Soul Festival on their website:
  • Kid’s Day at Iowa City Farmer’s Market, 7:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday at Chauncey Park, 405 E. Washington St., Iowa City. School garden and nutrition booths hosted by Iowa City Community School District Farm to School, a project of Field to Family, and The Alliance for Healthy Living.

Questions on gardening, land use or local foods? Contact Michelle Kenyon Brown, community ag programs manager at Linn County Extension,

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.