Florida native pawpaws: an interview with Terri Pietroburgo, Pt. I
I’ve always been fascinated by rare and exotic fruit trees. For years I wanted to see a Florida native pawpaw tree in the wild but never had any luck – until I went on a foraging trip with Green Deane. He found a teeny little tree by the side of a path and announced “Ah, a pawpaw.”
I started to wonder: how many times had I passed one and been unable to identify a Florida pawpaw because it didn’t fit my expectations? I had the same problem with persimmons. Though I’d walked past a tree in my neighborhood dozens of times, I didn’t see it until my wife pointed it out one day. “Look at that – what kind of fruits are those?” Persimmons! I’d always missed it because the tree was small and tucked into the woods.
Since I’m volunteering for the upcoming Master Gardener Spring Sale here in Marion County, I checked out the list of vendors and saw there was a booth space rented by “Pietro’s PawPaws.” I couldn’t take it. I had to call and find out who this person was and what they were growing. The phone was answered by Terri Pietroburgo, the booth’s renter and the owner of (so far as I know), Florida’s only native PawPaw nursery. After talking to her for a few minutes, I realized she was a gal after my own plant nerdy heart… and I asked if she’d agree to an e-mail interview. She did – and not only that, she provided me with some of her incredible photos of pawpaw tree species from across the state.
Without further ado, I present part one of my interview.
DAVID: Terri – how did you get into growing PawPaws of all things?
TERRI: Pawpaws are Florida natives and the host plant for the beautiful zebra swallowtail butterfly. They have beautiful white or purple flowers and edible fruit. I searched for five years for pawpaw plants for our butterfly garden. In 2005 I drove two hours to a nursery and paid $20 each for three pawpaws the size of tooth picks and only one lived because they hadn’t been grown correctly. Then in 2007 we were
driving home from church and I saw a Bigflower Pawpaw blooming on the side of the road. Went home, got my truck, wandered into the woods and found fifty blooming obovata pawpaw. I figured there must be people like me who had looked a long time to find them. So I took it as a sign from God because we found them on the way home from church – and I started a pawpaw nursery.
I have learned a lot about pawpaws as I continue to try and add a new species to my nursery every year. Pawpaws are very hardy plants if they are grown correctly at the start. So I take much care in the way I grow them and the instructions I give out so you can enjoy a great plant and butterflies for a long time.
DAVID: I always thought PawPaws were a Northern fruit tree – and even when I lived up there I never had any luck finding them in the wild. If they’re living in Florida – where? And what do they look like?
living in Florida – where? And what do they look like?
DAVID: Pop quiz: what are the native varieties and their
(Smallflower Pawpaw), Asimina Pygmaea (Dwarf Pawpaw), Asimina Incana (Wooly Pawpaw), Asimina Angustifolia (Slimleaf Pawpaw),
site that was being cleared, could I transplant it?
TERRI: Your chances of transplanting a pawpaw are not very
good. It is probably more work than most people want to do for one plant. They have a very long taproot as seen in the picture of the dwarf pawpaw I dug up (left). It only had a foot of growth above the ground and a six foot taproot. They are not happy when their roots are disturbed.
TERRI: They are a member of the custard apple family so the inside is soft just like custard. The Florida pawpaws don’t taste as good as the northern triloba because it has been cultivated to taste certain ways. The Florida pawpaws have a tropical taste that isn’t the same as anything I have eaten. I have tasted six of our eight species and liked them all. Like anything else you pick in the wild sometimes you get one that’s not that good but overall I have liked the taste. My grandson eats them as fast as I can get the seeds out!
(Continue to Part 2)