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Dr. Ben Arnold: A scientist looks at Pawpaw culture

Another look at the "Kentucky Banana" by experts. This treatise follows another scholarly look at the prized native fruit by Historian Mike Watson. (Comments re article 74496 Mike Watson On Pawpaw vs Papaw) There is a latent commercial potential for the beautiful tree with the distinctively spicy pulp. Dr. Arnold asks, 'Wouldn't it be great for Adair County to be the first to commercialize pawpaw extracts and develop pawpaw farms?"
Click on headline for complete essay, with compelling concepts most of us never knew: That it's foliage is a natural insecticide - except for the beautiful Zebra butterfly. That some people are allergic to the fruit, and why.

By Ben Arnold

The pawpaw is indeed a very interesting fruit and plant and Kentucky is in the center of the optimum region for growing them.

The chemistry and story of the pawpaw is much too complex and lengthy to present here but a few facts may be of interest to your readers.The American Indians and early settlers enjoyed and counted on the fruit for a reliable food source. The fruit contains more nutrients than most of our common fruit, including large quantities of vitamins C, B1 and B2 and many minerals.

Toxins are present in parts of plant

While it is commonly known in our region that some people are "allergic" to pawpaw, some of its unique properties may not be recognized. The leaves, stems, seeds, and maybe the skin contain the biochemical 'annonaceous acetogenin' that is very toxic. The ripe fruit contains a very small amount of this compound but the green fruit contains more.

Whether the reported allergic reactions are due to accidentally eating some skin or seeds or that some individuals are just more sensitive to the smaller amounts in the ripe fruit is not known.

How the toxins exert effects
Bugs and insects don't eat the fruit or the leaves

For those who are more observant, you may have noticed that insects and bugs don't eat the fruit or the leaves?

There is only one known insect that eats the leaves of the pawpaw, the beautiful Zebra swallowtail butterfly you often see in these parts.

This butterfly is apparently immune to the acetogenins but retains some concentrations in their bodies for significant periods so that birds, or other predators won't eat them. I personally have taken the leaves from the pawpaw in the fall and spread around my small garden the next summer.

Pawpaw leaves kept insects out of garden - without using sprays

I had no insects and applied no sprays!

I don't want to create any unwarranted concerns, but these chemicals are powerful.

Epidemiology studies have reported an increased rate of atypical Parkinson's disease in some South American populations that eat large quantities of other fruit that contain these same compounds. These include the Cherimoya, Soursop (graviola), and others S America fruits.

So until we have better scientific studies, my advice is be careful to not swallow the seeds or skin.

This intriguing plant may some day lead to exciting advancements in medicine or agriculture.

This story was posted on 2015-04-12 06:53:38
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Epicurean Kentuckian: Ripe Papaw, a Kentucky delicacy

2013-09-29 - Adair County, KY - Photo by Ed Waggener. Ben Arnold, the new owner of Hollygate Farm on Harrods Fork Creek, brought by a ripe Papaw on Friday. The Papaw is from his town - Conover Sisters place on Petit's Fork. Dr. Arnold cultivates them, loves their taste, and experiments with dishes made from them. One, a Papaw pastry, was shared. Quite delightful taste. The Papaw above, on a bed of leaves from another, so far non-bearing tree, was taste tested by Linda. "The flavor is a cross between a banana and a cross between a banana and a persimmon," and hence the sometimes label for the fruit, "Kentucky Banana." Linda added, "And the texture is very custardy." Dr. Arnold thinks there ought to be a harder look at commercial production; eating the fruit has health benefits, he says. And, if not for the fruit, Papaws make stunning ornamentals. - Ed Waggener
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Zebra Butterfly on milkweed: Only insect which dines on pawpaws

2015-04-12 - Crocus Creek area, Cumberland County, KY - Photo by Billy Joe Fudge, Retired District Forester, Kentucky Division of Forestry.
This photo was posted almost five years ago, on June 10, 2010, Milkweed is the favorite of the Zebra Swallowtail, Billy Joe Fudge wrote in a classic Kentucky Color (Kentucky Color: Zebra Swallowtail and Butterfly Weed). Now scientist Dr. Ben Arnold writes that the butterfly species is the only insect which dines on PawPaws.

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