Growing bananas in New York

Last November, we planted six banana trees around the house. You read that well. Actually, they are called pawpaws, also known as “the poor man’s bananas”. Apart from pawpaws, we also planted mulberry trees and an American persimmon. Let’s have a closer look at these exotic-like native beauties.

Pawpaw

Imagine a fruit the size of a mango, that smells like the most exotic tropical fruit. With a custard-like creamy texture and a taste redolent of both bananas and mangos, the pawpaw’s fruit is the largest edible fruit native to the U.S. and was a favorite of Native American populations. It is hard to believe, but you can pick this fruit from trees in a region where winters can get to -15F.

One of the six pawpaws in the garden.

We were very excited to see the first seedling budding in May. It seemed that five had survived the winter, and at the end of July also the sixth seedling started to leaf out. We are excited to see them grow, but patience is key; hopefully we will see the first fruits in five to six years.

Paw paw fruits. The big black seeds are not edible.

The largest pawpaw farm in New York State is located near Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region. If you are interested to learn more about scheduled visits, or if you would like an update on virtual classes on growing unusual fruits, you can contact Cornell Cooperative Extension.

American persimmon

In summer, the American persimmon produces fragrant flowers that are dioecious, which is a botany term meaning that you will need both male and female plants to obtain fruit. If we ever want to see a more fruitful outcome than its vibrant red colors in the fall, we will need to plant a partner for our current one and hope for some passion in the air.

At this moment the one and only American persimmon seedling in the garden.

The fruit of the American persimmon tree is the ice wine among the edible fruits native to the Catskills. Apart from its stunning flavor that is rich, deep, sweet, and complex, perhaps the most important aspect to this fruit is that it ripens around Thanksgiving. In cold years, the trees are known to hold their fruit deep into the winter. Picking your fruits during a polar vortex in December? Yes, it technically is possible!

Fruit of the American persimmon.

American persimmons usually cannot be found in stores because they’re difficult to transport and do not keep well. It’s time to grow some in your own yard!

American persimmon foliage.

Mulberry

Mulbberies make us dream of the summer vacations we spend in Turkey. They have an abundance of reddish black or greenish white fruits and are known to be very fast growing trees. Only the red mulberries are native to the U.S. White mulberries are native to northern China and India, but are widely cultivated and naturalized in many other places in the world. It’s not a good idea to plant both species together, since the red mulberry is susceptible to hybridization with the invasive white mulberry.

Picking mulberries in Turkey, summer 2019.

Unfortunately, only one out of the four mulberry seedlings survived the winter. Like American persimmons, mulberry trees are dioecious. We will plant a few extra ones at the end of this coming fall, to increase our chances of actually having some fruit in a couple of years!

The only mulberry seedling that survived the winter. He or she is growing fast!
Morning catch of fresh red mulberries, Turkey, summer 2019.

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