RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The bounty of the pawpaw fruit is yours for the eating — if you’re willing to hike by the James River and look for the tropical-tasting, native fruit.

The pawpaw has the flavor of fruits from warmer lands, but the Asimina triloba, the American pawpaw, is native to the East and Midwest, according to experts. Pawpaws are an oblong-shaped fruit found exclusively in wet places, like riverbanks, and are only available at the end of summer.

Aidan Stewart, a certified arborist with the local tree care company, TrueTimber Arborist, spoke to 8News before he headed down to the banks of the James River today to forage.

“Pawpaws are cool because they are native, edible, are local to our area and good tasting,” said Stewart.

Many people describe pawpaws as having a taste similar to a custardy banana or a mango that is full of big brown seeds.

When nearing the trees, Stewart said it is immediately apparent papaw is nearby because of the sweet smell that the fruits give off.

“Size doesn’t matter too much,” said Stewart. “Because they are wild. They vary in size from, like, a lime to a mango.”

Stewart said those who want to forage pawpaws can pick them or shake them from trees, whose trunks tend to be skinny. Squirrels are competition for the ripe paw paws that fall on the ground.

He estimates there are thousands of pawpaws in the groves of trees along the James River. He tends to go about three to four times a season to collect them, gathering about ten pounds at a time, though he has friends who go to the river daily to forage this time of year.

Aidan Stewart’s pawpaw foraging tips along the James River:

  • Look for pawpaws along the slopes of the James River as the trees grow exclusively near bodies of water.
  • Always look up.
  • Use your nose. “This is one of the few fruits that you can forage for that you can always smell,” Stewart said.
  • The firmness of pawpaws determines their ripeness. The fruits must feel soft to eat and once they feel soft they have a very short window to be eaten as they ripen very quickly and cannot ripen off the tree.
  • Pawpaws won’t ripen any more after you pick them.
  • Pawpaws can be eaten raw. You can also get creative and bake and prepare them in various ways like a salsa, cheesecake, ice cream or in pawpaw bread.