Way down yonder in the Paw Paw patch

Kansas Pawpaw tree
Kansas Pawpaw Patch

 

Where, oh where, oh where is little Jimmie?
Where, oh where, oh where is little Jimmie?
Where, oh where, of where is little Jimmie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in his pocket
Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in his pocket
Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in his pocket
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch

Traditional Appalachian Folk Song

 

 

History of the Pawpaw

 

In 1541, Hernando de Soto saw Indians in the Mississippi Valley eating the Pawpaw fruit. In 1810, Lewis and Clark wrote in their journal that Pawpaws and nuts kept them going when little else edible was to be found. In 1826, James Audubon painted a pair of cuckoo birds in a Pawpaw tree. Daniel Boone and Mark Twain were Pawpaw fans. But Kansas is on the extreme edge of Pawpaw habitat and few people know of the Pawpaw.

 

Cuckoo in a Pawpaw tree, by Audubon
A pair of Cuckoo in a Pawpaw tree, by Audubon, image Wikipedia

The Pawpaw Fruit

This small deciduous tree grows in the wet woodland understory shaded by tall oak and elm trees. The “poor man’s banana”, the pawpaw fruit is oblong, light green in color, and bunches like grapes. The fruit pulp texture is banana-like, with a color that varies from banana-white to mango-orange an odor that becomes tangy with age. Not surprisingly, its taste is a cross between banana and mango.

There were no fruits in my Pawpaw Patch. The answer may lie in the fact that the Pawpaw is clonal and spreads by root. Also, like the Mulberry, it has male and female trees. A male tree may not be close enough to a female tree to pollinate the flowers.  Then again, it is late October and perhaps the deer have feasted on the fruit.

 

Kansas Pawpaw tree
Kansas Pawpaw tree

The one and only food source of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) is the foliage of the pawpaw tree. Look again at Audubon’s plate above.

 

Kansas Pawpaw tree
Kansas Pawpaw tree

[North Carolina, Kentucky, Delaware, and Ohio have Pawpaw festivals. Where, oh where is the Kansas Pawpaw festival?]

 

Kansas Pawpaw tree
Kansas Pawpaw tree
Kansas Pawpaw tree
Kansas Pawpaw tree

 

Kansas Pawpaw tree
Kansas Pawpaw tree

 

All images come from El Dorado State Park, taken October 2014.

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