The paw paw is also known as papaya but they are one and the same. The botanical name is Carica papaya and it grows in warm temperate to tropical areas. Paw paw prefers tropical and sub tropical climates but will grow in a very sunny protected spot in the warmer temperate areas.
Wherever bananas grow, paw paw will too. This is not the ‘pawpaw’ plant Asimina triloba which is a member of the custard apple family and a completely different plant.
People tend to either love or hate the taste of paw paws and the cause of that often depends on what stage of ripeness the fruit was when they first tried it. If the paw paw is not ripe enough it will be somewhat bland and lacking in sweetness. If it is over ripe it will be too soft, strong flavoured and in some older varieties, it will have an aroma not unlike vomit. When it is just right, it is gently sweet, softly firm with a nice paw paw smell. If you want someone to like paw paw make sure you only give them fruit that is really nice. It can take a little while to get to know the best ripeness for your taste buds (a bit like bananas) as paw paw fruit varies in both shape and colour – from yellow to orange. Unripe green paw paw is popular in Asian cooking.
Paw Paw Growing Conditions
Paw paw like a well drained soil in a sunny spot protected from cold winds. In extremely hot positions some shade in the hottest part of the day will prevent the fruit from sun scorch. Paw paw detests frosts and cold wet winters, which will cause extremely slow growth, poor fruit set and even death. Plenty of water is required in the spring and summer seasons whilst ensuring the ground is not water logged as this will cause disease and death. It would interesting to know just how far south in Australia they grow and still fruit.
Propagation and Growth
Paw paws can be grown from seed or purchased from a nursery. Once the weather has warmed up in spring buy half a paw paw from the green grocer and wash the pulp from fresh seed and sow them directly into the garden bed to which organic matter has already been added. Seeds quickly lose their viability so don’t leave them sitting around. Sow the seeds about 30 centimetres apart. Seeds can also be sown into containers but paw paw are a bit like tomatoes in that their growth can suffer a check when transplanted.
If sowing the seeds into containers make sure they do not dry out. Once they reach about fifteen centimetres in height carefully plant them out with as little root disturbance as possible.
Gently water the plants and shade them while young if the weather becomes too hot. We use a piece of bushy bamboo or a golden cane frond to shade them when necessary.
Fertilise the paw paw with a complete organic fertiliser a couple of times each month. A small amount frequently is better than a large amount infrequently. Over use of fertilisers can upset the soil’s micro organisms and these organisms effect the growth of the plant. If the leaves look a bit pale or yellow apply some seaweed emulsion which will act as a tonic and increase resistance to sucking insects and fungal infections. It is also provides a buffer at transplanting time.
Once the plants have flowered identify the males, keep one or two of them and cut the rest down to the ground, and thin them out to about 1 – 2 metres apart.
Paw Paw Flowers
The paw paw has three types of flowers – male, female and bisexual.
- Male flowers – multiple flowers on a longer multi branched stem, petals joined together, thinner than both the female and bisexual flowers
- Female flowers – Very short stem, thicker and bigger than the other two sexes
- Bisexual – This is similar to the male flower but the petals are joined at the base and the flower contains both the stamen and bulbous ovaries at the base
This video by Daleys Fruit shows an opened bisexual flower as well as a male flower on a southern red bisexual paw paw.
The paw paw plant needs to be either a self pollinating variety or there needs to be both male and female paw paws. Unfortunately a self pollinating variety will sometimes revert to a single sex if the winter is too cold. To identify the different sexes you must wait until the paw paws flower so ensure you plant plenty of seeds. Both sexes flower but the male paw paw flowers have a longer stalk. You only need one male to fertilise eight or nine female paw paws.
The paw paw is generally a fast growing plant. Fruit will set anywhere from nine to eighteen months after sowing or planting out depending on the climate and conditions.
If the fruit sets but then drops off apply some clean wood ash, kelp meal or rock potash around the base of the paw paw plant.
As the fruit begins to ripen you may need to protect the fruit with fruit netting or fruit bags to prevent flying fox and bird damage.
Paw paws are short lived and production slows down after three or four years – similar to passionfruit. It is a good idea to get new plants started about twelve months prior to removing the older plants.
If paw paw plants become too tall to harvest they can be cut back within sixty to eighty centimetres of the ground as long as it is still a healthy and reasonably young plant. A tin is then placed on top to prevent water from causing the trunk to rot.
Paw Paw Benefits
Paw paw fruit supplies calcium, potassium, phosphorus, carotene, lycopene (highest levels are in dark orange fruit), A , C, E, folate, flavonoids, iron and the B vitamins riboflavin, thiamine and niacin. The fruit is chock full of enzymes papain and chyopapain which are good for digestion.
The fruit has anti inflammatory properties and it is good for lung and joint health. It is reputed to be helpful as an anti cancer food especially for breast cancer but other cancers as well. Paw paw also contains fibrin which reduces the risk of blood clots.