Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Asimina triloba
Pawpaw

Non-technical Page

by Katherine Gould, Angela Steward, & Steven D. Glenn
Not peer reviewed
Last modified: 04/03/2013

Common Names

Pawpaw, Custard Banana, False Banana


Field identification

Pawpaw is a native, deciduous, large shrub or small tree. It exhibits clonal growth, forming thickets or small colonies. Crushed leaves and freshly cut wood are aromatic, smelling somewhat like turpentine. The terminal naked buds show the juvenile leaves covered with a dense, rusty tomentum. Axillary buds are large, globose, and covered with a rusty tomentum. The leaves are large (up to 1 ft long) and "tropical"-looking. Leaf blades are oblong to obovate with entire margins. The flowers are green, then turn brownish purple, and are 2-5 cm broad, bell-shaped, and pendant. Flowers emerge along previous years' stems in the spring before the leaves. The fruit is a large berry, 4-10 cm long, green then turning yellow, then brown or black at maturity.

There are no related species in our area, and no potentially confusing species.


Food uses

 Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for food purposes without first consulting a physician.

(Sullivan, 1993) (Elias, 1982) (Mitchell, 1979) (Bonner, 1974) (Kral, 1960)

Fruits are fleshy and edible. The pulp is whitish to yellow and custardy in texture, with a taste and texture at maturity like a sweetish avocado. The white-fleshed varieties of fruit are apparently less palatable, while those with yellow to orange flesh are tasty. Pawpaw fruit can be consumed by humans, although handling the fruit may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The fruits can be eaten raw and cooked for puddings.


Medicinal uses

 Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for medicinal purposes without first consulting a physician.

(Sullivan, 1993) (Mitchell, 1979)

Seminole Indians reportedly make a tea from the flowers to help kidney discomfort. An anticancer drug has been purified from pawpaw and is being tested. The seeds contain an alkaloid, asiminine, which is reported to have emetic properties. The bark also contains an alkaloid, analobine, and was once used as a medicine.


Student projects

Pawpaw is an ecologically imperiled species in some regions of the country. What characteristics of the plant are contributing to its demise?


Other uses

 (Brett, 1992) (Mitchell, 1979)

Bark of young twigs is sometimes used by fishermen as a stringer for the catch. Pawpaw is an attractive foliage landscape tree with a luxuriant, tropical appearance. The leaves turn yellow in fall.


Poisonous properties

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. If you believe you have been poisoned, please contact the Poison Control Office near you (look for the number in the front of the phone book).

(Sullivan, 1993)

Handling the fruit may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The seeds contain alkaline asiminine, an emetic and narcotic.


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Brooklyn Botanic Garden