Pawpaw – A Fruit with an Identity Crisis

Pawpaw – A Fruit with an Identity Crisis

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native edible that is often overlooked and misunderstood.  Not only does it produce a delicious fruit that looks like a mango and tastes like a banana, but it is also an aesthetic landscape plant.  This fruit is slowly gaining popularity with younger generations and a handful of universities (Kentucky State University and the University of Missouri) are working on cultivar improvements.

A pawpaw tree in the woods.

A pawpaw tree growing in the woods. Photo credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

The pawpaw is native to the eastern United States (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-8), however it’s closest relatives are all tropical such as the custard apple, cherimoya, and soursop.  The pawpaw, along with these fruits, are known for their custard-like texture which may be a unpleasant for some consumers.  Pawpaws are relatively hardy, have few insect pests, and can still produce fruit in partial shade (although they produce more fruit when grown in full sun).

Pawpaws perform best in moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0.  They are found growing wild in full to partial shade, but more fruit are produced when trees are grown in full sun.  However, pawpaws need some protection from wind and adequate irrigation in orchard settings.  Trees can grow to between 12 feet to 25 feet tall and should be planted at least 15 feet apart.  In the Florida Panhandle, flowers bloom in early spring and fruit ripen from August to October depending on variety and weather.

Young pawpaw fruit

Young pawpaw fruit growing on a small tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County

A number of improved cultivars of pawpaws have been developed that produce more fruit with more flavor than native seedlings/saplings.  The University of Missouri has conducted trials on the following pawpaw cultivars:  ‘Sunflower’; ‘PA Golden’; ‘Wells’; ‘NC-1’; ‘Overleese’; ‘Shenandoah’; ‘Susquehanna’; and ’10-35′.  Most of these cultivars performed well in southern Missouri, however yields may differ in the Florida Panhandle.  The full results of the trial can be found in the “Pawpaw – Unique Native Fruit” publication.

Pawpaws can be propagated by seed or cuttings.  Unlike most fruit trees, pawpaws are usually true to seed meaning that saved seed produces a tree with similar characteristics to the parent tree.  To save seeds, place fresh seeds in a bag of moist peat moss and refrigerate for 3 to 4 months before planting.  To vegetatively propagate, take cuttings (pencil thin in diameter) in the winter and store in a refrigerator until early spring.  Cuttings should be chip budded onto seedling rootstock during the spring.  Please visit this publication from the University of Nebraska for more information on chip budding.

Pawpaw fruit are ready to harvest when they are slightly soft when gently squeezed.  Fruits picked prior to being fully ripe, but after they start to soften, will ripen indoors at room temperature or in a refrigerator.  Already-ripe fruit will stay fresh for a few days at room temperature or for a few weeks in the refrigerator.  To enjoy pawpaw fruit throughout the year, scoop out the flesh, remove the seeds, and place the flesh in freezer bags and freeze.

Whether you want to add more native plants to your landscape or you are a rare and unusual fruit enthusiast, pawpaw may be the tree for you.  They can be utilized as a focal point in the garden and provide delicious fruit for your family.  For more information on pawpaw or other fruit trees, please contact your local Extension Office.

Attract Wildlife with Landscape Imperfections

Attract Wildlife with Landscape Imperfections

Landscape activities have already begun in our Panhandle counties with cleanup, mulching, raking, and pruning.  Our mild temperatures and days with sunshine spur us to jump into our landscape preparations for the spring growing season.

This year before you send all your debris to the compost pile or patch up thinning turf areas, consider that some landscape imperfections may actually be good for local wildlife.

We all know how important it is to plant nectar attracting plants for bees but there are other easy practices that can help promote more native bees in local landscapes.  There are some solitary native bee pollinators that will raise young in hollow stems of plants.  Instead of cutting all your old perennial  or small fruit stems back to the ground, let some stay as a home to a native pollinating bee.  This does not have to detract from the look of the landscape but can be on plants in the background of a border garden or even hidden within the regrowth of a multi stemmed plants.  Plants that are especially attractive to native bees have a pithy or hollow stems such as blackberry, elderberry, and winged sumac.

The hollow stems of upright blackberries can be home to solitary bees. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Another favorite site for solitary bees is in the ground.  These ground nesting solitary bees should not be compared to yellow jacket wasps.  Solitary bees are not aggressive.  Mining or digger bees need some bare soil surfaces in order to excavate small tunnels for raising a few young.  Maybe you have an area that does not need a complete cover of turf but is fine with a mixture of turf and ‘wildflowers’.  A few open spaces, especially in late winter and early spring will be very attractive to solitary bees.

Beneficial solitary bee mounds in the ground of a winter centipedegrass lawn area. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

One of our fastest disappearing homes for wildlife are natural cavities.  In residential sites, we often prune or remove limbs or trees that are declining or have died.  If the plant or tree is not a hazard, why not leave it to be a home for cavity nesting birds and mammals.  If the dying tree is large, have a professional remove hazard pieces but leave a trunk about 10-15 feet tall for the animals to make a home.  You may then get to enjoy the sites and/or sounds of woodpeckers, bluebirds, owls, flying squirrels, and chickadees.

Dancing Around Fruit? – The Mulberry

Dancing Around Fruit? – The Mulberry

“Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush” is still sung by small children today. There are lots of different versions of the lyrics. But each usually describes a daily or weekly task list. In fact, the rhyme began in 1840 as a cadence for female prisoners exercising at the Wakefield Prison in England. There happened to be a Black Mulberry (Morus nigra) growing in the yard. Black Mulberry is a slow-growing short tree, so as a young tree it appears bushy.

Red berryRed Mulberry (Morus rubra) is the native Florida species. It tends to grow more upright, but is still a small tree. Additionally, there are White (Morus alba) and Pakistan (Morus macroura) , as well as, many hybrid Mulberries that will grow in the Florida panhandle. White Mulberry is a fast growing tall tree that is so aggressive that it is classified as an invasive species. It can rapidly seed natural areas and become the dominant species. But, the Pakistan Mulberry is a small tree that develops a characteristic crooked, gnarled trunk and a large fruit. It can be pruned as a bush easily.

Growing the mulberry bush can add a unique winter feature to the landscape while producing food for the birds. Yet, the plant is short enough that the fruit can be harvested without having to shake the tree and gather up the fruit from the ground before the birds get all the berries.

Mulberries are self-pollinating and only require about 400 chill hours. A chill hour is each hour that the temperature remain between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. After 400 cumulative hours the plant is able to flower. The fruit matures in the late spring to early summer. The birds will be sure to notify everyone when it’s time. Pakistan Mulberry can produce 4 inch long berries.

Mulberries will perform well if planted this winter. Plan on pruning them back each year if the bush effect is desired. It can take a year or two to get fully rooted. Don’t be surprised to see some fruit drop off prematurely as the tree/bush gets established. Also, pay attention to where the mulberry is installed. Windy spots will knock off fruit. What birds eat, they deposit. Mulberries will stain the surfaces they land on. If the fruit is walked through, the staining can be moved to indoor surfaces.

When picking fruit don’t forget the gloves unless dark stained fingers is the new look you’re trying to create.

For more information on mulberries: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/trees/mulberry.html

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Until plans were underway for our UF/IFAS Demonstration Butterfly Garden, I had never heard of Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacineata. Master Gardener Volunteer Jody Wood-Putnam included this gem in her garden design and introduced me and many of our visitors to a new garden favorite.
Although in the same genus as your common Black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia fulgida or R. hirta) this perennial has very distinct differences. Rather than the low growing, hairy, oblong leaves of Black-eyed Susan, Cutleaf Coneflower has smooth pinnately lobed leaves with serrated edges. The leaves are still clump forming but form an almost bush-like shape. By mid to late summer, tall flower spikes emerge and are covered in bright yellow flowers bringing the overall height of the plant over 5 feet tall!
Cutleaf Coneflower is native to North America with several variations adapted to different regions including the Southeast and Florida. This perennial performs well in full sun to part shade and needs a lot of space. Mature plants can reach 3’ wide by 10’ tall and may require staking. The plant can spread through underground runners, so be sure to give it lots of space. In North Florida leaves may be evergreen if winter is mild. Cutleaf Coneflower is a good wildlife attractant providing nectar and pollen for many insects and if you leave the flowers on to mature the seed the is eaten by songbirds, including goldfinch.
To see this plant in person, stop by the UF/IFAS Demonstration Garden at 2728 E. 14th Street, Panama City, FL. If during normal business hours, check in for available seeds from our Pollinator Garden. 850-784-6105
More information about Cutleaf Coneflower see https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/rudbeckia-laciniata-var-humilis/
Attract Hummingbirds All Year – Video

Attract Hummingbirds All Year – Video

Our landscapes are becoming important spaces for many animals to find food, water, and shelter.  You can enjoy many beautiful plants while supplementing the diet of a favorite garden visitor, the hummingbird. Learn about a couple of nectar plants for hummingbirds and how to properly install your hummingbird feeder In the Garden with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Attracting Wildlife to the Garden

Attracting Wildlife to the Garden

One of the incredible benefits of living in Florida is exposure to the biodiversity of our wildlife population. From ordinary squirrels and mockingbirds to the more exotic panthers and migratory tropical birds, it is rare one can step outside the house without seeing or hearing wildlife of some variety. One of the practices we “preach” here at Extension is to provide habitat for wildlife in our yards and gardens. While cities and neighborhoods are human-centric, we share these spaces with thousands of wild animals, birds, fish, and insects and should always consider them in our actions.

Attracting birds and butterflies are popular pastimes, and Extension faculty can provide a tremendous amount of information on their preferences and food sources. However, a few unsung critters deserve homes and space as well. Just yesterday, I took a call from a gentleman who was excited to discover a small colony of bats roosting in a tree on his property. He was looking for ways to encourage them to stay, because he realized the countless benefits they provide in free insect control. Many people are nervous around bats of because of their unpredictable, irregular night flight pattern and association with scary stories. However, an average Florida bat can eat 1,000 insects a night, keeping pest populations down, reducing mosquito-borne disease, and saving millions of dollars in crop damage.

In our demonstration garden today, I was delighted to walk up on a black racer sunning itself in the grass. These common garden snakes provide valuable pest control of rats and mice, and are not aggressive or venomous. The fear of snakes often comes from the surprise of finding one unexpectedly, so always be alert and observant when outdoors. Respect for these creatures and a basic working knowledge of common venomous and nonvenomous species can go a long way towards calming one’s nerves. An excellent resource for snake identification in north Florida is this online guide. Like many snakes, this particular snake had been in tall grass, so it is always wise to be cautious in those areas.

This black racer sunning in the grass must have gotten the message about utilizing habitat provided for wildlife! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

To attract wildlife, learn about their life cycle and food sources, and provide shelter, water, and food for the species you are interested in attracting. Keep in mind that inviting wildlife may also draw their predators, but know that this is part of the larger cycle. Always keep safety in mind, and if necessary keep tall vegetation and deep water to a minimum in play areas frequented by young children. The benefits of providing food and shelter for wildlife are countless for human observers and wildlife alike.