Forty years ago I planted a black walnut sapling, which is now a huge, massive tree producing bushels of nuts every year for the squirrels. Not for us, as you would appreciate if you ever tried to shell a black walnut.
Producing also, from its roots and fallen leaves, a substance called juglone which poisons practically every edible plant in its vicinity known to man — except the pawpaw tree. The pawpaw is a native American fruit in the custard apple family, reputed to be delicious. Neither you nor I have ever tasted a pawpaw, because it doesn’t keep well enough to reach the market.
What could I do then but plant pawpaws in the shade of the walnut? Nothing, and now, four years later, I have two pawpaws big enough to bear flowers and thus, theoretically, fruit. The thing is, though, that pawpaws are not self-pollinating. In the wild they are pollinated by carrion-eating flies, which they attract by having flowers the color of rotting liver. Since this is an iffy proposition, the hopeful pawpaw grower is advised to hang spoiled meat from the branches. Fortune smiled on me. Out hunting snakes just at blossom time, I came across a rotting deer carcass.
Just to be sure, though, I backed up the deer bones with hand pollination. The deal is this. First you take an artist’s brush and then just go to it:
Pollen is ripe for gathering when the ball of anthers is brownish in color, loose and friable. Pollen grains should appear as small beige-colored particles on the brush hairs. The stigma is receptive when the tips of the pistils are green, glossy and sticky, and the anther ball is firm and greenish to light yellow in color.
See? Nothing to it. A few weeks later and Shazam!, you’ve got yourself not just one but two baby pawpaws. Only about an inch long so far, but wait till October.