Since You Asked: Of pawpaws and pawdads

Your brain is parsimonious on persimmon knowledge. Contrary to your assertion that pawpaws are known as "American persimmon," they aren't even in the same genus as persimmons and are a completely different "animal." Where I grew up back east they grow like weeds and we called them Indiana bananas. They don't even look like persimmons! What's wrong with you people?

— David S., Medford

You sound like dad, David. He still doesn't know what's wrong with us, but loves us all the same. So you know, as penance our Staff Horticulturalist has been sentenced to a month of sucking the juice from unripe persimmons, and it's quite a form of entertainment, let us tell you. We'll try to post pictures on the Web site!

Still, you're right, and you weren't the only person to question our research. Some folks confuse the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) as the "American persimmon" (Diospyros digyna, a member of the ebony family and a fine hardwood). Both fruits are native to the American east, but they are confused perhaps because "pawdad" is a nickname for persimmon fruit. Pawpaw ... pawdad: "dad" equals "pa" (or the phonetic "paw") in the brain's language center? Sounds paw-plausible to us.

One other note: We suggested persimmons were "found" by settlers. But American Indians had actually been cultivating them for quite awhile (the word persimmon is derived from an Algonquian word) along with pawpaws, which were important to the Lewis & Clark expedition. Did you know there is a dinosaur named "pawpaw lizard"? Pawpawsaurus campbelli, an armored dino believed to have a clubbed tail, is named after the geologic formation in Texas where it was found.

Anyway, one reader called to tell us that Fuyu persimmons are available at Costco (which means they're probably gone by the time you read this). They're a good source of potassium, fiber, and vitamins A and C. As you might have guessed by the name, several varieties are native and popular in Asia.

As our column correctly pointed out, you'll see persimmons as bright orange globes in local trees come December, and if you ask nicely, perhaps that tree's owner will let you pick a few.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to

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