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Breeding Better Trees

Great fruit starts with great plants! For thousands of years, humans have been growing crops and selecting the best of the plants to use as parents for the next generation. Project Pawpaw aims to improve the pawpaw using the same techniques that have led to the domestication of all other major food crops!

Mature pawpaw trees in breeding orchard

Step 1 - Choose Parents

Breeders collect pawpaw seeds and plants from all over the country and grow them in a research orchard. Traits related to fruit quality, plant health, and overall vigor are measured as the trees mature. Parents with complementary traits are chosen to be "crossed" to each other.

Pawpaw flower being pollinated by paintbrush with number tag in the background

2 - Make Pollinations

Two trees are chosen to be parents in a "cross". Using a paintbrush, pollen is taken from the anthers (male flower parts) of the first parent and placed on the stigma (female flower parts) of the second parent. The flowers are covered with a mesh bag to exclude pollinators and prevent accidental pollen contamination.

Pawpaw seedling being held in hands

3 - Grow Seedlings

The pollinated flower grows into a fruit, which is harvested in the fall. Seeds from the fruit are stored in cool, damp conditions to simulate winter and then planted in the greenhouse. When the seedlings are two years old, they are planted in the field.

Three different colors of pawpaw skin found in a pawpaw breeding orchard

4 - Evaluate Progeny

When the seedlings begin to bear fruit, breeders assess fruit quality, growth characteristics, and other important traits. While all of the seedlings from a cross share the same parents, just like human siblings they will all be slightly different. The best seedlings will be selected either to be used as parents in future crosses or to be released as named varieties.

A hand of pawpaw fruits maturing on the tree

5 - Release Variety

Out of the thousands of trees grown in our research orchard, the most promising trees will be clonally propagated and planted into farmer trials to make sure that they perform well over a wide variety of conditions. We'll select the very best tree or trees to become the newest variety of pawpaw!

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Breeding the best pawpaws takes patience, hard work, and trees - like, a lot of trees.

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