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Pawpaws on the Rise In Oglebay Park

By Jake Francis, Director of Environmental Education–In the late summer and early fall, during the brief moments when our educators are not teaching one of our various programs, some of the Schrader Center Staff can be found prowling our trails in search of the large green leaves of a Pawpaw patch. Those foul smelling leaves are a surefire guide to the custard-like fruit that many Central Appalachian residents associate with this time of year.

The American Pawpaw (Asmina triloba) population in the Park has been on the rise, with the large clonal clumps growing and new clumps appearing annually.  The trees’ success is due in a large part to their shade tolerance, but according to Greg Park, Director of Nature Interpretation, deer seem to also leave the trees’ foliage alone. A little bit of research revealed that plants such as the Pawpaw in the family Annonaceae (the Custard Apple Family), produce a toxic chemical known as acetogenins in their foliage and bark. These acetogenins stop crucial parts of our cellular machinery from producing energy, and thus deter almost all animal herbivory.

Interestingly, one insect, the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly, takes advantage of the acetogenins.  The butterfly lays its eggs on the plant, which is consumed by the hatched larvae.  The acetogenins are then stored in the butterflies’ bodies throughout their life, making them unpalatable to avian predators (birds!)

If you have time, come out to the Park and hunt down a Pawpaw patch of your own, but remember that there is a mandatory 10% fruit tax on all pawpaws found in the park  (payable to the office of Environmental Education, of course!)

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