2017-10-07 / Outdoors

INSIDE THE OUTDOORS

Columnist shares with the bears

Many call it the best American fruit that you have never eaten. It’s the pawpaw, which is normally associated with the tropics but can grow in Potter and Cameron counties.

About six years ago I purchased some pawpaw seedlings and planted them. This year, they began producing fruit.

My wife is from York County. It all started one Sunday at the end of September 2016. My wife and I were traveling to visit my grandparents in Mt. Wolf, one-half mile west of the Susquehanna River. I saw pawpaw trees with ripe fruit adjacent to the road and made a mental note.

On our way back, we pulled over at that spot. Since the trees were big, we couldn’t shake them well enough to bring down the fruit. However, by throwing large sticks up into the trees to hit the smaller branches, we were able to knock down some fruit.

I peeled back the thin green skin with my teeth and sucked the creamy, yellow flesh into my mouth. My taste buds were rewarded with a flavorful, exotic taste, reminding me of banana and mango. It was wonderful.

Since then I have scouted out a few more areas with pawpaws. Once you have seen one, they are easy to identify. They grow up to 40 feet tall, but most are around 20 feet with a four-inch diameter.

They have eight- to ten-inch-long oval leaves. In winter they have unique long, skinny, dark-colored leaf buds that make them easy to identify. In the spring their flowers are brownish colored and have somewhat of an unpleasant odor, since they seek flies as pollinators instead of bees.

Pawpaws must have two genetically distinct trees to pollinate. If you are buying from a nursery, you must plant two different varieties to have fruit.

The fruit is oblong shaped and covered with a thin green skin. Most have yellow flesh, but I have found a few that have white flesh. Inside the fruit are large black seeds that you can suck the flesh off when you are eating. The fruit is hard and softens as it ripens.

Pawpaws thrive in rich floodplain soils, yet they grow on mountainsides. They grow in the understory of large trees, but really don’t seem to produce much fruit unless they are in a gap in the canopy where there is good sunlight.

Last month, as I was picking pawpaws on the south-facing rocky slope of a mountain, I realized I was not alone in pursuing that bounty. The claw marks and broken limbs on the trees made me realize that there was at least one black bear whose palate had been satiated there.

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Archery season began last Saturday. Those who have been in the woods confirmed that there’s a bounty of natural food sources. Those conditions often make it difficult to find those special areas where deer have been congregating.

As I’ve written before, the best advice is to find the acorns, because that’s also where you’re most likely to find whitetails.

It has been a good year for acorns. In most locations, white oak and chestnut oak trees have produced well. Both species produce an acorn that is much less bitter and more palatable to wildlife than the black, red, and scarlet oak acorns also available in our woods.

Autumn is reaching its peak in the great north woods, so don’t miss a chance to enjoy it.

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