Pawpaw pollination is a subject we receive many questions about each year. The Pawpaws unique flowers don’t resemble anything like the fragrant and dainty rose family flowers that most fruit trees in the temperate world produce. Pawpaw flowers are a different beast entirely. They are a deep purplish maroon color and the fragrance is…well, not something you might want to revisit over and over again like a jasmine blossom. It’s more akin to something rotting, which is just what the pollinators of pawpaws prefer!
Rather than the various native and imported bees that most gardeners try to attract to their garden for pollination, the Pawpaw is pollinated by various fly and beetle species. These insects are far more attracted to the scent of yeast, rot and fermentation than they are to some sweet sugary cherry blossom. This unique pollination strategy is also the key to getting your pawpaws pollinated! Planting phacelia and mints won’t bring the pollinators in for pawpaws but rotting fruit and other food scraps might do the trick!
Even though it appears that a wide variety of beetle and fly species visit the flowers, much research is still to be conducted on which frequent the flowers most. We’ve heard from many gardeners that their trees produce plenty of flowers but seem to never get pollinated. This could be due to a lack of pollinators or simply not enough pollen and genetic diversity. Homegrown Pawpaw gardens might only have a few varieties planted as opposed to a native forest that has dozens or hundreds of pawpaw trees and thousands of flowers!
So for those of you that are antsy to taste those delicious Pawpaw fruits, hand pollination can be an easy solution. But there are a few things you’ll need to know first:
1. Pawpaw trees are self-incompatible meaning that the pollen from one variety will not fertilize the ovaries and create fruit on that same tree which is why at least two different varieties are needed for Pawpaws to set fruit.
2. When hand pollinating, recognizing the different stages of pawpaw flowers is an important key detail to know. When they first open they’ll be in the female stage of flowering with the little green stigmas sticking up above the still unopened male flowers. They will remain like this for a few days, receptive to pollen from other trees.
3. Next the male flowers open and begin shedding pollen. When you first begin hand pollinating you’ll want to take your paint brush or cotton swab and get it nice and covered in pollen. You then move this pollen to a different tree’s flowers that are still in the female stage of flowering. Be sure to get it right on those receptive stigmas and be liberal with how much pollen you spread.
4. If all goes as planned you’ll soon see tiny clusters of pawpaw fruits just beginning to form. These will (hopefully) become the giant tropical tasting Indiana bananas in the fall!
At OGW we offer a diversity of food plants and their companions from around the world. We offer unique and rare fruit and nut trees, shrubs, and vines. We've been sharing our passion for edible plants and organic gardening since 1994. We are a family owned and operated nursery in Portland Oregon. We ship our seeds & plants to all 50 states. At our retail garden center we offer seasonal fruit tasting, preservation and plant care classes as well as hold events in the community. We support local food sovereignty- grow your own One Green World!