Do deer eat paw paw fruit? Yes! Deer love paw paws. We have found that deer seem to favor them about equally with persimmons, and that's really saying something. We all know how attractive a tree full of ripe persimmons can be in October when they start dropping. Deer will seek out large producing paw paws and visit them regularly while fruit is dropping in early-mid fall. Paw paws only take about 4-8 yrs to start producing so they are a very early producing tree.
One notable quality about paw paws that we love is their natural deer resistance! That's right, while deer seek out paw paw trees for their ripe fruit, they wont touch their foliage. Crushed paw paw leaves have a strong smell best described as a mix of bell pepper and diesel fuel, not exactly tasty. This natural defense makes paw paw trees very deer resistant, and ensures they have virtually no pest issues either. They need no fencing or other protection from deer. This makes them versatile and saves you money and hassle. Paw paws are small trees, similarly sized to dogwoods or other understory trees so they have to be naturally deer resistant as their small size puts them directly within reach of hungry deer. Paw paws are the only tree that we do not recommend protecting form browsing.
Paw Paws produce the largest fruit of any native North American fruit tree, a 3-8in long soft green fruit that ripens in early fall. They have a great flavor, similar to a strong banana with hints of mango, pineapple, and vanilla. When they are dropping you can bet on finding concentrations of deer, raccoons, opossums, and nearly every other omnivore in the forest, mopping up these large tasty fruits. They are high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin C, niacin, iron, and phosphorus that can aid in antler growth, bone development in fawns, and support healthy lactation in mothers in the spring. Paw paws provide nutrients that other food sources just can't match. In fact, scientists are even researching anti-cancer qualities in paw paws in humans.
With all that flavor and nutrition its no wonder that deer love to eat paw paws. This tree is one of the most underrated plantings for deer. An incredibly valuable tree for wildlife that almost nobody knows about. In the past it has gotten very little attention, however in recent years more and more landowners are starting to see its value and invest in paw paw trees. Most simply didn't know that deer like paw paws. After planting paw paws and seeing the results, our clients have let us know that deer absolutely love paw paw fruit and producing patches of paw paws have become magnets for their herds.
After finding a few paw paw patches here locally we wanted to see for ourselves. We set up our own trail cameras over a patch of producing paw paws and we can confirm that deer love to eat paw paws! We saw bucks coming back day after day to mop up what had fallen. Often these visits took place during the day as paw paws are understory trees and often grow well in areas that have good cover nearby.
Paw paws are a truly remarkable native tree that just don't get the publicity they deserve. Every landowner should consider adding paw paws. They provide great wildlife attraction, a great source of fruit production for human consumption, and if for nothing else, we think they're downright cool trees for all the unique qualities they have.