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What Is Asimina?

Fruit flies are attracted by asimina.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2014
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Asimina, or pawpaw, is a genus of small fruit trees and shrubs native to North America. It produces the largest edible fruit native to the continent. There are eight Asimina species ranging over the southern and eastern United States and the extreme south of Ontario, Canada, with most species growing in Florida and Georgia. The fruit has many common names, most referencing its similarity in taste and texture to the banana, such as "prairie banana" and "poor man's banana."

While most species of Asimina are evergreen, with leaves year round; the single species that grows in the north, A. triloba or common pawpaw, is deciduous, meaning it loses its leaves seasonally in the fall. The trees or shrubs range from six and a half to 40 feet (two to 12 meters) tall. Asimina leaves are large, eight to 14 inches (20 to 35 cm) long, and four to six inches (10 to 15 cm) wide.

Asimina flowers are one and a half to two inches (four to six cm) across and white, brown, or purple. They smell of rotting flesh to attract scavenging insects, such as fruit flies and beetles, as pollinators. However, the scent is often faint, and non-existent in some species. Growers sometimes place rotting meat or fruit near the tree to attract pollinators.

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The fruit of the pawpaw is a large edible berry weighing from 0.7 to 18 ounces (20 to 500 grams). It is green when unripe, and ready to eat when it is yellow or brown. The pawpaw fruit is heavily seeded and tastes similar to mango or banana. It is rich in protein. The fruit has a brief shelf life, but can be preserved by canning, drying, or making jam or jelly.

A. triloba ranges from sensitive conservation status to endangered throughout its native habitat, and A. tetramera, the four-petal pawpaw, is endangered, with only about 750 plants remaining. A. tetramera grows in Florida and is rejuvenated by fire. Most remaining plants grow on private properties in Martin and Palm Beach Counties. A. obovata, the bigflower pawpaw, is also limited to Florida.

Four species of Asimina grow in Florida and Georgia: A. angustifolia or the slimleaf pawpaw, A. incana or thw wooly pawpaw, A. pygmea or the dwarf pawpaw, and A. reticulata or the netted pawpaw. A. angustifolia additionally grows in Alabama. A. parviflora grows across the southern United States, from Texas to Virginia.

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