The Naturalized Habitat Network of Essex County& Windsor

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Project Pawpaw

The Pawpaw: Its Past & Present
     The Pawpaw ( Asimina triloba ) is a small, slender tree that has large leaves and bears an edible fruit. This sweet fruit, which is yellow-green in colour, can be eaten raw or preserved to make a variety of foods. Historically, it typically grew in sheltered wooded areas. Its fruit was a favourite among local wildlife and the aboriginal people who made this region their home. The bulk of its natural range is in the eastern United States. However, its northern range includes portions of southern Ontario, including Chatham-Kent, Essex, Haldimond-Norfolk and Niagara counties.  

     The Pawpaw’s circumstances changed dramatically with the onset of European settlement in our region. Widespread deforestation across southern Ontario within the last century, combined with a lack of awareness of the Pawpaw and its benefits, has severely impacted this species. Furthermore, the Pawpaw’s site-sensitive requirements have prevented it from re-generating in disturbed areas or being established in new forestation projects. Province-wide, there are only about 35 known sites where the Pawpaw is known to remain. In our organization’s home region of Windsor and Essex County, this species has been reduced to less than a dozen remnant sites.
     Yet beyond the Pawpaw’s dwindling presence, we noticed something significant about this species; something that became evident over the ten years in which we had been giving presentations on native plants. Unlike other native trees such as the oaks, maples and hickories, the Pawpaw was practically unknown. When we conducted informal surveys, we found that many people were unaware of just what a Pawpaw is, much less of this species’ presence in Ontario. What was once a recognized food source for First Nations and early settlers had become a case of cultural amnesia. In a time when the people of our region had no historical or cultural connection to our native Pawpaw, this species appeared to be both gone and forgotten.

     Even among those who did recognize the Pawpaw, this species was often misunderstood. For people who planted it without an understanding of its unique character traits, the results were often disappointing. It was the proverbial round peg being forced into a square hole. Even when Pawpaw plantings were successful, the species itself was under-appreciated and was relegated to that of a novelty tree or a garden curio.

     All things considered, we realized that if we were going to re-establish the Pawpaw in southern Ontario, we had to go beyond a few quick garden tips. We would need to reach beyond a quick promotion or as a garden gimmick, which would ultimately do more harm than good to this vulnerable species. On the contrary, bringing the Pawpaw out of obscurity would require an ambitious investment, one that would require raising awareness about the Pawpaw from an ecological, historical and cultural perspective. Despite its initial investment, we also felt that if we could utilize the Pawpaw in a meaningful, sustainable way, then we could restore its presence in a way that could benefit both the species, the natural environment and our community itself. To this end, after more than one year of planning, discussions and grant applications, we launched a special initiative: Project Pawpaw. 

    As its mission statement declared, Project Pawpaw is “dedicated to raising awareness of our indigenous Pawpaw and its benefits by providing education, training and practical experiences to both prospective producers and consumers, with the goal of restoring this species, while establishing it as a community supported, environmentally sustainable local food resource.” This particular initiative presented some significant ‘firsts’, beginning with the very first community education project focused on the Pawpaw to ever take place on Canadian soil.

    This special initiative was first launched in December of 2011 and was carried out throughout 2012. This involved the development of new educational resources, events and activities, many of which are still offered on a continuing basis. This initiative was developed as two distinct parts; grower training and consumer education. This included a Pawpaw Grower’s Training Seminar and a Pawpaw fruit orientation seminar, as well as tours of remnant Pawpaw patches and backyard plantings. This allowed us to educate both prospective producers and consumers and made it possible to involve a wide demographic, including organic farmers and operators of farmers markets and road side fruit stands, as well as home gardeners, local food advocates and food aficionados.

   In its present form, Project Pawpaw continues in a number of ways. Locally, we still offer a few tours of Pawpaw patches and orchards throughout the year. We also sponsor a Pawpaw dessert competition at the Harrow Fair, in which people create their own “made in Ontario” recipes. Regionally, we also offer the following:

 1. "The Pawpaw Grower's Guide for Ontario" - This 50 page manual was the culmination of our first developmental year of this special initiative. It covers all aspects of Pawpaw cultivation and harvest, as well as the historical, cultural and ecological aspects of this species, presented from an Ontario perspective. This book is sold locally at our events and regionally through mail order. Check the bottom of this section for information on ordering your copy.

2.  The Pawpaw: Heritage Lost & Found  - Developed as a follow-up to our special initiative, “Project Pawpaw”, this presentation covers much of what was learned over the course of this year long project. Starting with the analogy of a round peg in a square hole, this often misunderstood species is examined in terms of its unique ecological characteristics. Strategies for managing this species’ recovery will be explored, along with discussions on its opportunities as a sustainable food crop. This 40 minute presentation was developed with horticultural societies and naturalist clubs in mind and includes a power point presentation.  

 3. The Pawpaw Grower Training Seminar - This is a 2.5 hour training session designed for those who are interested in growing the native Pawpaw tree as a sustainable food crop. This course covers practically everything an aspiring grower would need to know, including this species’ characteristics, planting requirements and long term cultivation, as well as fruit harvest, storage and preparation techniques.     

Getting your copy of the Pawpaw Grower's Manual

Mail Order - After selling this book through mail order since it debuted in 2012, we will discontinue mail order sales at the end of 2017. In the meantime, we have enough inventory remaining to fill all orders. These mailing rates are as follows...


 Canadian, single copy - $14.75

 Canadian, two copies - $26.00

 American, single copy - $17.00

        To arrange for a mail order, prepare a cheque or money order made out to 'The Naturalized Habitat Network'. Be sure to include your complete address and postal/zip code. Mail your order to our address at...

       The Naturalized Habitat Network

       P.O. Box 292

       Essex, Ontario

       N8M 2Y3