By Tiffany Morgan, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN — A crowd of around 70 people were seated at the WVU Core Arboretum June 12 to learn about “the pawpaw gospel” according to Neal Peterson, presenter for the Nature Lecture Series. The presentation was entitled “Love in the Core Arboretum,” and Peterson focused the presentation on his research, findings and experience he’s dealt with for decades with pawpaws.
His presentation began with a raise of a hand and the simple question of “Who knows what a pawpaw is?” To his eyes, a majority of the group raised their hands.
“Pawpaw never was brought out of the wild until the last 100 years,” Peterson said. “Most of the work has been done in the last 40 or 30 years — it’s not going to solve world hunger, it’s not that sort of thing, but it does demonstrate the potential that still lies in species that are only in the wild at this time.”
Peterson, a WVU alumnus who studied in plant genetics, traveled from his home in Harpers Ferry — three and a half hours away — to educate locals about the importance and heritage that continue and grow with different types of pawpaw trees.
The crowds learned about the pawpaw — from its native origin to harvesting the fruit, questions were asked to learn more about it. The heritage of a pawpaw, the growth process and the fan clubs were all mentioned to further interest.
Peterson said he was really interested in learning more about the pawpaw, particularly because he has a love for fruit. With many hours spent in the library and weeks in September in his earlier days, he collected a plethora of research to learn how to grow his version of the best pawpaw.
Peterson currently has six selections of pawpaw trees and is working on a seventh that will be completed in the next two years.
“When I started, it was with the conviction that if we had better varieties, that was the foundation for interest and commercialization,” Peterson said. “It’s not a finished job — breeding is a continual process.”
Peterson shared his love for the fruit during the presentation and continues to get his message out through farmer’s markets and festivals dedicated to the pawpaw.
“Eat more pawpaws,” Peterson said. “Pawpaws to the people.”
Zach Fowler, WVU Core Arboretum director, was pleasantly surprised to see the unexpectedly large crowd in attendance to learn about the pawpaw.
“The crowd was excellent — this was more than twice our largest crowd,” Fowler said. “I think it has to do with the fact that people are really into pawpaws.”
Fowler added that the arboretum has a “pawpaw following” from the community, and being with a crowd of 300 during an annual pawpaw party, he also enjoys experiencing some of the people finding a new love for pawpaws who never tried the fruit before.
“It’s one of my favorite things I do every year,” Fowler said. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to introduce to people something they end up loving.”