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He bent down and picked one up, lifted it to us lips. It smelled delicious. Why not?

Paw Paw's stories

Why not try it? He bit into it. A revelation. It was delicious! He had known pawpaw trees all his life - they grew in the woods behind his boyhood home in southern West Virginia, and he was always in the woods as a teenager. He admired the tree for their tropical-looking foliage and their curious wine-colored flowers. But for reasons forgotten to him, he had never tasted the fruit. Until then. This was not merely survival fare. This was a delicacy! And with that the germ of an idea was planted in Neal's brain that grew in time, and eventually became the saga of his life.


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Now the first thing to do when starting an enormous project that will challenge one's ability to surmount obstacles and persevere in adversity is this: Assume the attitude of a religious, don the habit of humility, and make pilgrimage to a temple of learning. Seek the wisdom of the ages and of the sages, written in books and journals.

Visit a library. In a library you never know what you will discover - something that might save you from taking a turn down a wrong path - something that might show you that someone else has pursued your idea already, perhaps with success, perhaps with failure. Checking the library has prevented many a man and woman from re-inventing the wheel.

It has stimulated progress as it has made possible for fresh work to be built upon the foundations of work by others. Discover what discoverers before you have done. This is the essence of scholarship. Heeding this advice, Neal hied himself to the WVU library. He traced the catalogs and scientific journal indexes for the words pawpaw and paw paw and papaw and Asimina triloba.

#pawpaw hashtag on Instagram - stories, photos and videos

He supposed he would find little. After all, the pawpaw was a wild species, was it not, unappreciated and neglected. Who has ever heard of pawpaw orchards or of named pawpaw varieties? But much to his surprise, Neal discovered an amazing story. The Journal of Heredity had sponsored a national contest in that uncovered scores of outstanding clones of pawpaw, known locally to folks from Maryland to Kansas.

Benjamin Buckman had collected nine named!

The native fruit you haven't heard of

In James A. Little had published a small treatise on the pawpaw that describes his breeding efforts, the first named pawpaw variety bred by him, called 'Uncle Tom', and his planting of a pawpaw orchard. David Fairchild grew seedling pawpaws from the prize-winning fruit of the contest. And in the Journal of Heredity, George A. Zimmerman described his collection of over 60 named varieties and of his successful hybridizations between different species of Asimina.

The Northern Nut Growers Association had been studying and writing about pawpaw since The annual report of the NNGA described how Zimmerman's collection had been donated in to the Blandy Experimental Farm, an institution that had been collecting pawpaw since But this exciting story only deepened the mystery of the pawpaw. All this work had been done early in the 20th century, and yet in the pawpaw was little known.

Why was it not available in grocery stores? Where were the orchards? Why was the pawpaw not a commercial crop like the blueberry or the pecan, two native American species that had been successfully domesticated? What had become of those 60 varieties in Zimmerman's collection? The mystery deepened Neal's resolve.

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As a student of genetics he knew that the first task in plant breeding was to assemble the best germplasm available. Now it became obvious that collecting superior pawpaw germplasm would not require combing the hills and hollows of 25 States where the pawpaw grew natively - a task that no individual could accomplish, not in 25 lifetimes. Nor did it require a new national contest. The necessary work of finding the best pawpaws had already been accomplished a century before.

All that was required was tracking down the old collections of Buckman, Fairchild, Zimmerman and Blandy. It was like a family tradition to go and gather these things. We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. To learn more, review our Cookie Policy. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies and Privacy Policy. About Us Contact Donate Now.

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  1. Pawpaw: In Search of America's Forgotten Fruit by Andrew Moore.
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News Programs navigate down. Podcasts navigate down. Features navigate down. Categories navigate down. Newsletters navigate down. Pawpaws grow in clusters of one to six green fruit, which darken to a yellowish-black as they ripen. Credit: Andrew Moore. Related Stories.

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