They often have been called “America’s Forgotten Fruit.” Lewis and Clark wrote about them in their journals, and Thomas Jefferson, while serving as minister to France, had the seeds shipped to him to boast about American luxuries.
Richmond resident Woody Walker located the state’s largest pawpaw tree in 2009 and it is located in Madison County. Walker would not give the exact location of the tree. The tree was officially certified in 2010 as the largest pawpaw tree in Kentucky through the Kentucky Division of Forestry’s Champion Tree Program.
“The tree was shown to me and I recognized that it was a very large tree for its species,” Walker said. “I had been following pawpaw trees for some time. I first contacted Kentucky State University.”
Kentucky State University has the world’s only full-time pawpaw research program which is part of the university’s Land Grant Program.
There are about 2,000 pawpaw trees from 17 states growing on the university’s 12-acre farm.
“They told me to get in touch with the Kentucky Division of Forestry,” he said. “I could nominate the tree for the Champion Tree Program.”
The Division of Forestry began collecting a list of state champion trees in 1968 and it now contains 98 native species. The list of champion trees can be seen online at www.forestry.ky.gov/
The champion pawpaw in Madison County has a height of 28 feet, a 20-foot spread and a circumference of 40 inches, according to the state website. A link on the list shows a picture of the tree.
The fruit usually cannot be found in supermarkets, but Walker has found them at Lexington’s Farmer’s Market during the fruit’s peak season, which typically is late August and September.
Pawpaw trees can be found at Fort Boonesborough.
“If you get anywhere close to the Kentucky River, you’ll find pawpaw trees,” he said. “Typically, you’ll find them in the hollows where the soil stays wet a lot. They also like shade.”
Many may remember the fruit from the title of a popular children’s song “The Pawpaw Patch.”
“Where, oh where is little Danny? .... Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch .... Pickin’ up pawpaws, put ‘em in your pockets...Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.”
Ronica Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6608.