A couple of years ago I noticed a thicket of waist high bushes growing on the hill across the creek. This thicket had big pretty green leaves and just looked downright tasty, if I had been a goat. But, the goats kept ignoring this thicket. Why? It looked like just their thing. So, thinking that maybe they were afraid of the electric fence, thinking it blocked them from this treat, I decided to personally escort them to it.
I went to the main herd and clapped my hands to get their attention and called, “Girls, girls.” They left their grazing out in the field and dutifully followed me up the hill. I happily showed them this wonderful thicket and they just stood there and stared at me, as if saying, “Well, what is it? We walked all the way from the field, what do you want?”
They would have nothing to do with that marvelous, tasty looking thicket. Lee found several more thickets such as that and this year cleaned out what was over 50 small trees in it, because they did look like small tree. They also seemed to easily spread and take over an area. And, if the goats wouldn’t eat them, what good would that be to us?
Then a couple of weeks ago he found another thicket of them and got out his chain saw and stopped. These had produced fruit! And, he recognized the fruit. Paw Paws! Also known as the West Virginia banana, Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan banana, poor man’s banana, Ozark banana, prairie banana, Hoosier banana, etc. We haven’t had or seen a Paw Paw since we were kids. It’s a delicious fruit, sweet as bananas, and lasts about as long as bananas, can be used in place of bananas. But, why on earth wouldn’t goats eat the tree from this tasty fruit?
This called for research! According to our tree book and what we found on the internet, the leaves, bark, small branches are made into insecticide! No wonder the goats wouldn’t eat it.
The Paw Paw tree is very popular with organic farmers, and people like me that tend to not be able to raise any plant, because the Paw Paw has no predators. No insects or animals want to eat and destroy this tree. Organic farmers will also make insecticide from the leaves to spray other plants.
It does need good soil and shade and evidently our shady hillsides had exactly what it liked. It is also used to stop erosion, hold banks during flooding, because it grows quickly and the tree can get up to 40 foot tall and nothing will eat it or destroy, unless it‘s a man with a chain saw. You just have to remember it needs that shade a lot.
Listen to this, to pollinate it to get the fruit is a little tricky. No honey bees, humming birds, nothing like that will get near the flower. The flower has a slight odor of rotting meat. Seriously! Only blow flies, stink bugs, carrion beetle are attracted to the flowers and these are what pollinate it to make the fruit.
People who raise Paw Paw trees will put out rotting fruit, hang up chicken necks, road kill, rotting carrion, anything like that to attract the bugs this flower needs. This sounds like a tree for the Adam’s Family. They would love this tree.
And, this really weird tree produces delicious fruit. It has not been commercially developed like the peach or apple tree because the fruit, once ripened, goes bad fast. You would have to freeze it, dehydrate it, make jellies, fruit drinks, or use the pulp to make wine, and do it rather quickly. Any recipe that calls for bananas, this is your fruit. Paw Paws make good Paw Paw bread and can be made interchangeable with all banana recipes.
The Paw Paw was very popular with George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson even planted it at Monticello. Lewis and Clark lived on Paw Paws when meat was very scarce on their trip and the American Indian discovered if you dried and mashed up the seeds of the Paw Paw fruit, it was excellent in controlling lice. At some health food stores you can even buy shampoo with the mashed Paw Paw seed in it.
Now they say they haven’t tried to make the Paw Paw as popular as the peach or apple because the fruit doesn’t last long, but I think there is another reason. Imagine going to visit a Paw Paw orchard. One text described the flower as “ill” smelling, though not too strong. But, picture chicken necks, road kill, rotting meat, hanging all over the orchard to attract the bugs that would pollinate the flowers. Nope. I can’t see it as being a very popular fruit that way. You would have to hide the orchard away if you wanted to promote the fruit.
Sometimes the goats are smarter than you think. They knew what the leaves on that thicket was. Something not to eat! But, I have to admit, me, Lee, the foxes, coons, possums, squirrels, and bears still like that highly nutritious fruit.