Beautiful Pawpaw

views updated

Beautiful Pawpaw

Deeringothamnus pulchellus

ListedSeptember 26, 1986
FamilyAnnonaceae (Custard-apple)
DescriptionA low shrub.
HabitatCoastal pine flatwoods.
ThreatsHabitat destruction through conversion into residential, commercial, and agricultural land-uses, coupled with habitat degradation caused by trampling and fire control.


The beautiful pawpaw, also known as the white squirrel-banana, is a low-growing shrub with stems 4-8 in (10-20 cm) tall and a stout taproot. The stems are annual or biennial in longevity. The leaves are arranged in alternate fashion along the stem. The leaves are leathery in texture and are seasonally deciduous (i.e., they are shed in the autumn). The leaves are 1.6-2.8 in (4-7 cm) long, oblong to oblong-ovate in shape, with a smooth margin. The pleasantly scented flowers are solitary in the leaf axils, and have linear, creamy-white petals that become recurved as the flower develops. The fruits are cylindrical berries, 1-3 in (3-6 cm) long, with pulpy flesh, and colored yellow-green when ripe. The seeds are about the shape and size of a bean. The plant resprouts from the roots if the top is destroyed by fire or mowing.

The species is adapted to periodic disturbance by wildfire or windstorms. Flowering tends to occur only after fire or mowing promotes new growth of the plant. The flowers are insect-pollinated, and the fruits are distributed by animals and gravity.


The beautiful pawpaw grows in poorly drained flatwoods in sandy soils, in stands dominated by slash pine (Pinus elliotii ) and saw palmetto (Serenoa repens ). The beautiful pawpaw requires periodic disturbance of its habitat, although this must not be so severe as to kill the perennating roots of the plant.


The beautiful pawpaw is only known from northern Lee County (on Pine Island), southern Charlotte County, and Orange County, all in southwestern Florida.


The beautiful pawpaw has declined greatly in range and abundance. Some of its former populations have been extirpated, especially in the Fort Myers urban area. It is endangered mostly because of the destruction of its habitat for residential, commercial, and agricultural development. Moreover, the best surviving populations are located in areas near Fort Myers which have a high potential for real estate development. The plant has also been affected by trash dumping and damage caused by all-terrain vehicles. Because of its restricted distribution and small population size, the beautiful pawpaw is vulnerable to adverse effects from indiscriminate collecting, or from catastrophic weather events, such as a hurricane. The prevention of wildfire is also detrimental to its habitat quality.

Conservation and Recovery

Because it is an endangered species, the beautiful pawpaw is protected by Florida law from any harvesting, transport, or sale. However, there is no specific protection of the critical habitat of the rare plant, which is vulnerable to residential, commercial, and agricultural development. The most important requirement for conservation of the beautiful pawpaw is to protect the remaining plants and their critical habitat from destruction by development. This could be done by acquiring the habitat and designating it as an ecological reserve, or by negotiating conservation easements with private landowners. In addition, the conserved habitat must be managed through periodic light disturbance, by prescribed burning or mowing, to maintain its suitability for the endangered plant.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
3100 University Boulevard, South, Suite 120
Jacksonville, Florida 32216
(904) 791-2580


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. Beautiful pawpaw (Deeringothamnus pulchellus ).

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 26 September 1986. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Endangered Status for Three Florida Plants." Federal Register 51(187):34415-34420.