Paw paws getting ready to ripen on the south bank of the James River.
The paw paws are in, and, based on what I’ve seen in walks along the James over the past few days, it looks like it’s going to be a good year. Two years ago, I wrote a column in the T-D about a search for paw paws, that mango-banana-like fruit that sprouts from the tree of the same name. That year, however, I found precious few fruit-bearing paw paw trees. It was a very a dry summer, and the paw paw trees apparently decided it was in their best interest to husband their resources for growing as opposed to reproducing. Well, at least where I was walking on the James’ south bank near Reedy Creek last week, reproduction is in full swing this year.
But here’s the thing about paw paws (the largest edible fruit native to the United States): if you blink, you’ll miss them. They ripen so quickly that you really need to check back daily to make sure you don’t miss them at their height. And there are plenty of critters out there who won’t miss the opportunity to pounce on a ripe paw paw.
If you aren’t familiar with the paw paw, either the tree or the fruit, your education should start with a guy named Neal Peterson. The facts page on his website is particularly edifying.
Want to take off in search of paw paws (a great activity for parents and kids, BTW)? The forest canopy along the banks of the James is loaded with them. Once you know what a paw paw tree looks like, you’ll see them everywhere. Pick any trail near the water, and start walking. But remember, if you see a group of paw paws that isn’t ripe yet, make a mental note to come back often. The day you don’t could be the day they ripen and the day a squirrel gets drunk on paw paw juice.
The leaves of the paw paw tree are distinctive.