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Plant of the Month: The Pawpaw

daily.jstor.org
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The pawpaw is finding champions again after colonizers' dismissal, increasing globalization and economic needs.
In the past few years, the pawpaw—the largest edible fruit indigenous to North America—has been popularly hailed in the media as a panacea for a variety of climate-related woes. The New York Times published a piece called "The Promise of Pawpaw" in 2020, noting that "issues like climate change, economic inequity and access to food have brought more attention to this creamy fruit and its resilient tree." Similarly, in 2020 Civil Eats held that the pawpaw could soon become a "valuable crop for northern farmers" due to a warming climate.

In response to such laudatory comments, many have asked why the pawpaw fell out of favor in American society in the first place—"What is the pawpaw, and how did we forget it?" queried Gastropod, a popular food history podcast.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is not how pawpaw was forgotten, but rather whether pawpaw was forgotten at all.

But perhaps the question we should be asking is not how pawpaw was forgotten, but rather whether pawpaw was forgotten at all. As scholar of Indigenous foodways and member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Dr. Devon Mihesuah argues, "I'm not sure that it's been forgotten. I think it's been ignored, disliked, and unavailable."

Scientists hypothesize that the pawpaw may have been one of many large fruits distributed by herbivores in Central America. The extinction of these herbivores by the end of the Pleistocene era meant that the distribution of such plants was constricted. However, as José Hormaza argues, pawpaw was able to survive because it could easily produce "numerous root suckers that form pawpaw patches in the wild." Some archaeologists believe that the movement of Iroquois populations contributed to the dispersal of pawpaw north. What is now known scientifically as Asimina triloba is considered indigenous to twenty-six states in the eastern United States, from New York and Michigan in the north to northern Florida in the south, and to Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas in the west.…
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