PIKETON, Ohio -- A native Ohio tree, once farmed by American Indians on large plantations for its fruit and medicinal benefits, is being re-introduced to horticulture for preservation and as a potential niche market crop.
Ohio State University Extension researchers at OSU South Centers at Piketon are teaming up with the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association to help establish a pawpaw industry in Ohio, not only as a landscape species but also as an additional fruit crop.
"The goal of the collaboration is to potentially establish plantations of pawpaws for germplasm preservation, as a landscape tree, and as a crop that supports sustainable agriculture, agritourism and local foods," said Shawn Wright, a horticulturist with OSU South Centers at Piketon.
Wright and his colleagues are evaluating native pawpaw trees and selected cultivars for a variety of performance characteristics, such as growth habit, fruit production and fruit quality. They then plan to graft the top performing specimens on rootstock to develop a variety of cultivars that could be grown for the landscape and agricultural industries.
The pawpaw (genus Asimina) is related to the sweetsop and soursop, but is the only member of that family not confined to the tropics. Native American Indians cultivated the pawpaw for its fruit, a large berry that tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana. The fruit is high in protein and minerals, while its biomass is known to have anti-cancer properties. The bark and seeds contain natural insecticides, known as acetogenins, which have been used to produce organic pesticides.
Wright said that the pawpaw is not cultivated on a large scale, like apples, peaches or pears, because the fruit does not store or ship well, and the tree is difficult to transplant because it has a long taproot. However, cultivating the pawpaw locally is being sought because the tree makes an attractive landscape plant and has few insect and disease problems.
"The pawpaw has a very unique form and it is virtually pest-free. The tree is the only larval host of the zebra swallowtail butterfly," said Wright. "Deer don't like it. Rabbits don't like it, and it's well-suited for Ohio's climate and soils."
Wright hopes the cultivation project will help preserve wild pawpaw germplasm, create new cultivars for the industry, and serve as an educational tool to teach the public about the history of the pawpaw and its benefits.
The project, which began this year, will continue for another 15 years. The first fruit won't be harvested for market until 2014. To learn more, contact Shawn Wright at (740) 289-2071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.