Governor Parson Signs Bill Designating Pawpaw as Missouri State Fruit Tree

Elementary students played key role in new designation, learning about the state legislative process as well.


Pawpaw fruits, Forrest Keeling Nursery photo
Pawpaw flowers, photo
Office of Governor Parson photo: Among those celebrating the signing of Senate Bill 210 with Governor Parson, were, from left, fourth grade teacher Mary McDevitt and students from the New City School, Senator Karla May, and Governor Parson.

Jefferson City, MO (July 12, 2019)—A Missouri native tree with ties to the tropics has been designated as the state fruit tree of Missouri. Senate Bill 210, signed by Governor Mike Parson yesterday, July 11, 2019, was sponsored by Senator Karla May of St. Louis. This legislation creates a number of official state designations, including the pawpaw as the state fruit tree and the hellbender salamander as the official endangered species for the state of Missouri.

“Two years ago, during the election, our students voted on a possible new symbol for Missouri,” said Mr. Alexis Wright, head of the New City School, an independent elementary school in St. Louis. “The students thought that the pawpaw had a lot of potential to become a new Missouri state fruit tree because it is native to our state, high in nutrients, and its fruits ripen in August, the same month Missouri was founded. Students wrote numerous letters and received a Resolution from Senator Karla May, and she sponsored the bill.” 

In 2018, a number of the students involved in the project the previous year traveled to Jefferson City for a Missouri House of Representatives committee hearing meeting to testify for the pawpaw to become a new state fruit tree. Students watched the members of the House debate on the House floor, were introduced by Representative Karla May (now a State Senator), and received a standing ovation from the House members. Students then went to a committee hearing where the Missouri Commission of Tourism listened to their testimony. A Deputy Director for the Missouri Department of Conservation, Aaron Jeffries, offered more information to the committee about the pawpaw as well. 

“It was a long night, but it paid off,” said Wright. “The bill passed out of committee and moved onto the Executive Committee. With several more letters from the students to state representatives, it passed out of the House and moved to the Missouri Senate. On Tuesday, February 20, the students traveled to Jefferson City to testify in front of the Missouri General Bills Committee.” The bill passed out of committee and headed to the Senate Floor for a vote, then to the House for one final vote. 

The pawpaw—whose scientific name is Asimina triloba—is an understory tree, commonly found in partially shaded deciduous woodlands and small woodland openings. Pawpaws, also known as “poor man’s banana,” “American custard apple,” and “Missouri banana,” belong to a mostly tropical family of plants. There are only two species of trees from this family that occur naturally in North America, and the pawpaw is the only member of the family native to Missouri. Its natural range is Missouri east to Pennsylvania and south to South Carolina and east to east Texas. 
Pawpaw trees are easily identifiable, growing in groves, and with their leaves and large fruits, have a tropical appearance. Those wishing to grow pawpaws and harvest fruit should plant two unrelated trees, as this species requires cross-pollination to set fruit. The fruit is similar to a banana or papaya, with a flavor that resembles custard. Many people eat the sweet-flavored pawpaw fruit raw, with ice cream, or cooked in pies or custard. Wildlife, especially small mammals such as raccoons and opossums, quickly eat the ripened fruit in early fall. In fall, pawpaw trees provide brilliant yellow foliage.

“We’re excited for this acknowledgement of the pawpaw, our top-selling native fruit tree,” said Kim Young, Vice President and owner of Forrest Keeling Nursery, and a Grow Native! professional member. “Pawpaw supports three areas of importance to all Missourians: agriculture, conservation, and a growing state economy.”

Pawpaws are one of more than 2,000 plants native to Missouri. Native plants are essential for managing stormwater, storing carbon, providing forage for livestock, the survival of pollinators and other wildlife, and much more. Find suppliers of pawpaws and other native plants, and learn more about the many benefits of native plants to people, at Grow Native! is a program of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, a nonprofit prairie conservation organization and land trust. Learn more about the Missouri Prairie Foundation at