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Description

This plant is a shrub or small tree about 6-30' tall that branches sparingly (especially in shaded areas). The trunk and larger branches are covered with a thin bark that is light gray and speckled from small lenticels (air pores). Twigs and smaller branches are more brown and smooth. The alternate leaves are spaced closely together toward the tips of 1st year branches. Mature leaves are 5-12" long and 2-4" across; they are oblanceolate to obovate and smooth along the margins. The upper surface of each leaf is medium to dark green and glabrous, while the lower surface is light green and pubescent (at least while young); the bottom of the leaf is wedge-shaped, while its tip is usually blunt. Individual reddish brown flowers develop on 2nd year branches. Each flower nods downward from a short stout pedicel about ½" long; this pedicel is green to brownish green and densely covered with fine brown hairs. The typical flower spans about 1½" across, consisting of 3 sepals, 3 outer petals, 3 inner petals, numerous cream-colored or pale yellow stamens, and several green ovaries and their styles. The sepals are broadly ovate, light green, and pubescent; they are much shorter than the petals. Both the outer and inner petals are reddish brown at maturity (but green when immature), leathery in texture, and wrinkled from numerous veins. The outer petals are oval in shape, while the inner petals are oval-deltoid and smaller in size than the former. Both types of petals spread outward to expose the reproductive organs of the flower. The blooming period occurs during mid- to late spring and lasts about a month. The flowers have a slightly fetid scent. Each fertile flower produces a cluster of hanging edible fruits (technically, berries); these fruits become ripe during the fall. Each fruit is about 3-6" long, 1–1½" across, and oblongoid in shape; the skin of immature fruit is green, while the skin of mature fruit is yellowish green to pale yellow. The interior of each fruit is fleshy with a flavor that resembles custard, banana, or papaya; each fruit has two rows of seeds toward its center. The large seeds are orange-brown to brown with a smooth surface, ovoid, and somewhat flattened; each seed spans ½–¾" across. The root system consists of a woody taproot and underground runners; the latter can produce vegetative offsets. Pawpaw occasionally forms small colonies of woody plants.

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Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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