Students Plant Native Fruit for Edible Landscape on MUM Campus


The pawpaw is America’s largest native fruit, growing up to 6 inches long.

Following the award of a mini-grant from Pathfinders to encourage local food production, 13 pawpaw seedlings were planted on the Maharishi University of Management campus this fall.

The trees were planted just north of Crow Creek next to the main road leading to the men’s residence halls, a location that makes them easily accessible to passing students and community members.  Sustainable Living faculty member Alex Kachan, who applied for the grant and organized the purchase and planting, said that this initiative is another small step towards creating a more local and healthier food supply for our community.

“The idea of planting pawpaw trees on our campus came from students Peter and Paul Garrido,” Mr. Kachan said. “At that time I wasn’t familiar with this fruit tree, so I did some research and became very enthusiastic about it. When the Pathfinder mini-grant was announced, I submitted a proposal for planting pawpaws. Even though we didn’t receive the full amount that I was asking for, we did receive enough to buy 13 seedlings and have them ready for their appropriate planting time, which is in the fall.”

According to the Britannica Online Encyclopedia, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a deciduous tree of the custard-apple family (Annonaceae) that is native to the U.S., from the Atlantic coast north to New York State and west to Michigan and Kansas. It grows wild in 25 states, including Iowa.

A pawpaw can grow up to 40 feet tall. The trees blossom with 2-inch purple flowers in spring. The 3- to 7-inch-long fruit resembles short bananas, and like bananas, the skin turns black as the fruit ripens. The taste is sweet, resembling a combination of mango and banana, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

“Obviously, fruit is a very important and desired part of our diet but today most of the fruits we eat, although organic, are not local, which means they were picked before their natural ripeness,” Mr. Kachan said. “Unripe fruits are far less tasty and have far fewer nutrients. And of course the shipping of such fruits from faraway places has a negative impact on our environment. So when we ask ourselves what to do about that, pawpaws are a very logical and practical answer.”

Students planted the pawpaw seedlings earlier this month on a site selected by Ceyrena Kay, the campus landscaping expert, and Mr. Kachan.

Reprinted with permission from The Review, vol. 24, #3, October 15, 2008, Copyright 2008, Maharishi University of Management.