Pawpaw Hunting at Dismal Swamp State Park

September 20, 2009 at 11:56 pm 10 comments

September is winding down which means it is pawpaw season! North America’s largest indigenous, edible fruit typically ripens between August and October. Last year, I purchased my pawpaws from a lady in Blacksburg who had two trees in her yard. They were delicious– like a mango crème brûlée. They were so good, I found myself sucking the skin to savor all the flavor I could.

This year, I definitely wanted to relive the experience but I’m living quite a bit a ways from Blacksburg. I needed to find a more convenient source.

Enter the Dismal Swamp State Park. Just seventeen miles north of Elizabeth City, the park is home to pawpaw trees. How do I know this? It says so right on the website!

Persimmon, poke, blueberry, various oaks, black walnut and tall pawpaw also provide food for wildlife.

-Excerpt from “Dismal Swamp State Park – Ecology” page.

Alas, there are 22 square miles of protected forest wetlands in the Dismal Swamp State Park. That’s a lot of area to cover. While researching, I noticed there was an canal called “Pawpaw Ditch”. That seemed like a promising place to start our search– so Ryan Somma, the two dogs and I headed out thinking we had an eight mile hike ahead of us.

However, as we were entering the park, we inquired with the park ranger, “Do you know where any pawpaw trees are?”

Lo and behold, he cited trees on the boardwalk right near the Welcome Center.


“But there’s been a man waiting for them and I think he picked them clean,” the ranger added.


We decided to check out the nearby trees anyway and sure enough, no fruit was to be seen. Next we tried the Supplejack Trail, also near the Welcome Center. Although we came across a number of familiar trees with the familiar leaves, all the fruit appeared to be gone.

And then! We saw a tree with fruit! Sadly they weren’t ready to be picked, but they gave us hope!

Dismal Swamp State Park -Ryan Points at Paw paws
Ryan Points to First Fruit Sighting

We continued along and I decided to investigate a tree a little off the trail. I didn’t see any fruit. To add insult to injury, I managed to get myself cornered in some brush. You know the saying “Between a rock and a hard place”? I was between thorny bushes and devil’s walking stick… in shorts no less.

As I struggled to get out while minimizing the abrasions to my limbs, I brushed against the tree. I heard a soft thump behind me. I turned around– and there at my feet was a perfectly ripe pawpaw! I shrieked like a little girl. I shook the tree on purpose and TWO more ripe pawpaws joined me on the ground. I shrieked again like an annoying little girl. But I was elated– we had found our first three pawpaws!

Dismal Swamp - Vicky with First Three Pawpaws (by Ryan Somma)
Me with our Pawpaw Find (Photo by Ryan Somma)

I ate one right there on the trail. And for the second year in a row, I found myself sucking on the skin.

Dismal Swamp - Vicky Eats Pawpaw (Photo by Ryan Somma)
Eating First Pawpaw of 2009 (Photo by Ryan Somma)

After that, searching for pawpaws got a lot easier. I think some of it was because we were getting further down the Supplejack Trail. And I think some of it was because we had fine tuned a technique that worked for us.

Ryan Demonstrates Pawpaw Hunting Technique

We look forward to a week of pawpaw breakfasts and desserts and introducing the neighborhood kids to a new fruit. In the meantime– a lot more fruit awaits at the Dismal Swamp State Park’s Supplejack Trail! Go get it!

More pictures of our Pawpaw Hunt can be found on my Flickr site.

Entry filed under: Dismal Swamp State Park, Hiking, Pawpaw.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ryan Somma  |  September 21, 2009 at 10:43 am

    I can attest to you “shrieking like a little girl.” : )

  • 2. geekhiker  |  September 21, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    I just poked around online and it looks like it really be grown in Southern California, and really only near San Jose in the north. So now I’m curious: what the heck does one taste like? Or is it a flavor all its own?

  • 3. scienceguy288  |  September 23, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Lookee yumee.

  • 4. New Rule at the Dismal Swamp State Park « TGAW  |  September 24, 2009 at 5:04 am

    […] 24, 2009 When Ryan and I were pawpaw hunting, we discovered there is a new regulation in place at the Dismal Swamp State […]

  • 5. Berry Go Round #20 « Further thoughts  |  October 2, 2009 at 2:33 am

    […] on the theme of plants in nature, Vicky at TGAW has a post on Pawpaw hunting at Dismal Swamp State Park.  Video included!  And remaining on the topic of plants you can actually eat, a visit to the […]

  • 6. Brenda in Pulaski  |  October 19, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I just received my FIRST bagfull of pawpaws from a coworker. His father used to plant the seeds nearby the creek on his farmland years back and today he has them everywhere! I plan to do the same, but wonder if anyone in here knows whether these trees can grow away from a water source? If not, I have planty of creekbed on my land. Cannot wait to eat and grow these things!!!

  • 7. Patty Brandon-Garst  |  October 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog. It is delightful to read of your experiences! You’re a terrific writer and I find myself laughing out loud at many of the situations.

  • 8. tgaw  |  October 27, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    @Brenda- Sounds awesome! I’ve got a bunch of seeds planted myself that I hope to see germinate in 2010.

    @Patty – Thank you for such a nice compliment!

  • […] Pawpaw Posts 2009 Pawpaw Hunt My First Pawpaw Tasting Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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