Watching Pawpaws Develop

Ozark springs are beautiful. They set the stage for summer bounty. I’m watching pawpaws in anticipation of late summer bounty.

Spring weather is tricky here. One year spring ushered in its warmth enticing the pawpaws into bloom. The temperature dropped into the twenties for a week and killed the crop.

watching pawpaws begins with flowers
Pawpaw flowers point down looking like dark red purple bells with green tops. They are pollinated by beetles and flies, not bees.

Summer thunder storms drop hit and miss rains around the Ozarks. Enough is spread around so most places get some. One summer had no storms, no rain, only heat. There was no crop.

Farmers are familiar with the watching game. Watching pawpaws isn’t a big deal as I don’t depend on the crop.

This spring has been cool and wet. The pawpaws are now in bloom. The watching and waiting game begins.

looking inside a pawpaw flower
From underneath a pawpaw flower the pistil with its surrounding blanket of stamens is visible. The pistil is ready for pollen before the stamens release their pollen to prevent self fertilization. The pistil is large enough to make using a paintbrush to scatter pollen easy as beetles and flies are not as reliable as bees.

It is May, after the frost date. There shouldn’t be frost. It could happen. The forecasts don’t hint at such a catastrophe.

There’s a lot of rain. Pawpaws like that. The trees grow in ravines above the creeks. Enough moisture assures large pawpaws.

Summer is coming. It could be hot and dry. Heat isn’t a big problem for pawpaws as the trees grow in shade cast by other, taller trees.

Drought is a problem for all plants and creek residents. The creek sinks into the gravel leaving pools along its length forcing fish into concentrated areas good for predation, bad for survival. Leaves hang wilted. They may turn color and fall.

watching pawpaws ends with fruits
The petals drop away and tiny pawpaw fruits begin to grow. This will be a cluster of three fruits. Another cluster had seven which seems to be the maximum. Singles do occur. The fruits increase in size over the summer and ripen the end of August into September.

Pawpaws stay small. They are barely edible when they ripen. This disappoints lots of consumers: foxes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and me.

So far the crop looks promising. The future crop is only half an inch long now. When ripe the pawpaws will be four to six inches long. The best ones will have deep yellow flesh full of pineapple banana custard goodness. The ravines are full of trees known to produce such premium pawpaws.

Pawpaws ripen about September. For the next three plus months I will be watching pawpaws.

Find out more about pawpaws in Exploring the Ozark Hills.