“You Can’t Believe It Grows Here” – Project Pawpaw with Adam D’Angelo

Adam D’Angelo is the founder of Project Pawpaw, a crowdfunded plant breeding effort focused on North America’s forgotten fruit: the pawpaw. In the latest episode of the Perennial AF podcast, Adam talks about why the pawpaw is a perfect candidate for plant-breeding efforts, with just a few key traits preventing it from being easier to produce, and why he hopes that crowdfunded plant breeding can overcome some of the challenges that traditional plant breeding programs face with perennial crops. 

Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Jacob Grace: I know the pawpaw is a plant that is near and dear to your heart. Do you want to tell a little bit about how you first encountered pawpaws?

Adam D’Angelo: Sure thing. I mean, your listeners are probably pretty familiar with it with pawpaw, but in case they’re not, pawpaw is North America’s largest native fruit, and it tastes like a cross between banana and mango. It has the texture of a ripe avocado. 

So it’s large, maybe the size of a mango. And it has green skin, yellow flesh, and 5 to 10 large black seeds inside of it. And the flesh is super soft. It’s almost like a custard. And it grows all throughout the northeast. Midwest, South, Mid-Atlantic. Sort of the eastern side of the US. And, yeah, it’s a native fruit. It’s been growing here, it’s been eaten by indigenous people for thousands of years. It was George Washington’s favorite fruit, it fed the Lewis and Clark expedition… So, you know, it’s really a part of the culture of this place. But it’s interesting that as we’ve shifted to a more modern food system, we don’t see it as much.

I first encountered this tree when I was a kid visiting my brother. He was doing a summer internship, and he showed me a pawpaw tree, and I was like, what’s that? He’s like, oh, it’s a fruit. And I’m like, no, I’m pretty sure I know all the fruits. You know, like apples and bananas. Sometimes an orange, maybe a pineapple if you’re feeling fancy. But I remember going back to my room that night and looking it up and finding this whole world of fruits: pawpaws, persimmons, all sorts of other things that we have forgotten about despite the fact they grow right here. And that was on my mind as I went through college and grad school. I really liked working with trees. But it wasn’t until probably about four years ago when I started to realize that I could really do something with this. I can take the plant breeding education that I have and apply this to pawpaws, and help them get to more farmers and ultimately to more people.


Project Pawpaw: projectpawpaw.com