All-American Asimina triloba

We’re giddy with excitement about our containerized pawpaw patch that’s full of mature, fruit-bearing-aged trees looking for their forever homes. These mature specimens are loaded with the odd-looking bronze-purple flowers that are, apparently, being actively pollinated when our backs are turned. Night-pollinating beetles and daytime flies, most likely, are the culprit for the tandem emergence of the tiny, fingerlike baby fruits that likely give this native tree several of its other common names: dog banana, Indian banana, and false-banana, to name a few. The immature fruits do, in fact, resemble tiny bananas, while the mature fruits have a texturally similar pulp that could be likened to the soft innards of an overly ripened banana. Exotic looking, large, edible fruits grow in clusters of 4-5, and are an important nutrient-and-fat-dense food source for various mammals such as squirrels, black bears, raccoons, and opossums. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to harvest some of the fruits for yourself to enjoy in baked goods, ice cream, and even summery mixed cocktails.

You won’t have to feel bad about consuming your body weight in pawpaw ice cream, cupcakes, or beverages – in fact, you might actually benefit from it. Recent studies have found that not only is Asimina triloba loaded with free-radical-scavenging antioxidant properties, but anti-cancer constituents as well. More specifically, a range of sesquiterpenes have been isolated from Asimina triloba essential oils that had previously been found to possess anti-cancer activity when assessed against human lung, breast, and cervical carcinoma cell lines. Pawpaw extracts of potent polyketides, or derivatives of long-chain fatty acids known as “annonaceous acetogenins”, antitumor agents isolated only from members of the Annonaceae family, have been shown to inhibit tumor activity by up to 60% in test subjects versus the control group without having any negative affect on regular human cells. This is a fantastic indication for the future of cancer therapy, with even the National Institutes of Health touting pawpaw twig extracts as a potent alternative treatment when paired with standard eradication methods such as chemotherapy and radiation.

While the beneficial extracts are derived from twigs and woody Asimina triloba material, that doesn’t mean you should enjoy the flowers and fruits any less. The fetid-smelling purple flowers, which some may consider inconspicuous, are actually quite attractive and interesting if you have a thing for the obscure. As with similarly colored and scented blooms, the unsung heroes of the pollinating world are responsible for making sure our pawpaw trees produce tasty fruits for consumption by both humans and wildlife. The three maroon outer petals surround three smaller, fleshier inner petals, with the entire flower emitting a scent akin to rotting meat. Paired with the cadaverous floral color, pawpaw blooms are designed for pollination by decomposition-loving flies, more specifically and more likely common bottle flies. While this might sound a bit morbid to the uninitiated, the truth is that flies serve just as much of an important ecological role in the pollination of not only pawpaws, but literally thousands upon thousands of plant species, following closely behind bees as the second most prolific pollinating insect worldwide. So, the next time you’re about to bite into honkin’ slice of pawpaw bread or take a sip of your Asimina apéritif, make sure to thank a fly!


doi: 10.1021/np100228d

doi: 10.3390/molecules14093621

Chemical composition and biological activities of Asimina triloba leaf essential oil (


Layne96-libre.pdf (

Asimina triloba (

Pawpaw | Home & Garden Information Center (

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