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Floodplain Pawpaws, part 2

April 15, 2012

Seedling pawpaws are said to be of a lesser quality/less productive than named, grafted varieties. I was hoping to plant seedlings from orchard seed because they have good potential for good genetics. I half assumed these might be from someone’s named trees in a yard, garden, or orchard somewhere. I was taken aback a bit when I found they came from along the Clinton River floodplain and were probably native survivors.

Driving home from Patrick and Stacy’s with my little pawpaws in the passenger seat, my brain began to race. I started to feel a bit misty eyed. I know what some of you may be thinking…here comes the airy fairy bs. Well, it was deep to me. You see, I grew up in Clinton Twp which is right near the Clinton River. My family were some of the first European settlers in what is today known as macomb county, right in the heart of the Clinton river watershed. In our culture there is so little connecting us to our ancestry and our past, that the thought of pawpaws from the Clinton River has some deeper connection for me. When my family members arrived to this region there would have been towering American chestnuts. There would have been an understory or forest edge of hazels and all types of native fruits. And the floodplains would have pawpaws and groundnuts and other foods. One could walk through the forest and find lots to eat. Most of these plants are gone now. There seems to be correlation between the settlements and the diminishing diversity of edible species in the ‘wild’. Some schools of thought within the ethnobotanist and anthropology communities believe that the earlier settlers (native americans) in this land favored species that produced an abundance of food in a some archaic but incredibly abundant form of edible forest gardening. While it may never fully happen in my lifetime, I want to see forests around me return to this state. The American chestnut has been decimated by blight, but crosses with other chestnut species has produced blight resistant hybrids. Last fall I found 7 such trees in walking distance of my house. While hunting for morels in Rouge Park last week I came across a small stand of hazels. Nearby there was a large patch of nettles and what looked like jerusalem artichokes. Many of the pieces are there, all we need to do is put them together. I hope to start mini nurseries for this effort now. I hope to plant as many of these plants as I can. We’ll be re-introducing groundnuts, ramps, and fiddleheads this spring.

Yesterday was a crazy day of work and being locked out of our house. Going down to the river to plant the little pawpaws last night turned into a family affair because there wasn’t really anywhere to go. We walked past the sugar maples our neighbors tapped early this year. Past the mayapples and patches of wild ginger. And to the rivers edge amongst the hackberries, black walnuts, and sycamore trees. I explained to zackery and the baby in Jess’ womb that one day there might not be grocery stores to feed us, but if we act now, the forest will feed us. We said a little blessing for the trees and asked that the Creator’s hands would be upon them. I woke this morning to the sound of rain. I smiled and was grateful that the new little pawpaws were in good hands.

20120415-082149.jpg wild ginger


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  1. patrick permalink

    this morning, when i first awoke, the fog was strong, and then the rain began to really pour down. i thought of you and the little pawpaws, and was hoping they were getting watered in nicely from the storms above. i’d love to come check out the forest garden, and get some tours of yr favorite spots around eliza howell and river rouge. I’ve been thinking about going out and harvesting nettles as a i did last year, for spring tonic, and drying some for tea. are they up and of good size?

    • I haven’t found stinging nettle in Eliza Howell, but I did in rouge park about a week ago. They were maybe 4-5 inches tall and had 4-12 leaves each. Good eating size. I imagine by now there’s more of a bounty and they’re still tender. I dug one and planted it in a place where I needed a deterrent. We’ll see how it does

    • And I would love to show you around Eliza Howell some time. It’s a special place. Fall is my favorite time of the year, but it’s always good

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