The official bird of the State of Ohio is the cardinal. The official tree of the State of Ohio is the Buckeye. Flower: Red Carnation, mammal: white-tailed deer and gemstone: flint. But do you know what the state’s official native fruit of the State of Ohio is?
I’ll give you a hint, it’s not a peach, pineapple or pear, but it does start with a “P.”
During a recent trip to my alma mater in Athens, Ohio I saw a flier for a festival. And, with Ohio University’s mascot being the Bobcats, I originally thought the annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival had something to do with bobcat paws. I looked a little further into it and found the pawpaw is a fruit and not only is it a fruit, but it is the official native fruit of the State of Ohio. It has been since 2009.
The pawpaw is much more prevalent in southern Ohio and I’m surprised I didn’t know more about it during my 4+ years in Athens County. It is green, then yellow and then turns brown in the fall and resembles and tastes like a short, fat banana.
If it is the official native fruit of Ohio then there would have to be at least one tree somewhere in Erie County, right?
My first call was to Sandusky city greenhouse foreman Tom Speir. “Are there any trees of the official fruit of Ohio in Sandusky?” I asked. And as with everyone else I have quizzed on this topic, Tom asked me, “Peach trees, apple trees? What is the official state fruit of Ohio?” Tom asked back. He didn’t remember seeing or know of any pawpaws in the city’s parks, but said it would be something to look into and possibly bring some in.
A couple weeks ago I was on assignment with reporter Andy Ouriel and Erie MetroParks Environmental Coordinator Brad Phillips. The topic of the pawpaw came up and Brad mentioned there was one place in Erie County where you would be guaranteed to see a Paw paw and it was a property leased to Erie MetroParks for public access. The Hoffman Forest Reserve is tucked away on Huff Road in Berlin Heights and an easy drive from Sandusky. I enlisted my two sons for a much shorter road trip as we would hunt the “elusive” pawpaw tree and fruit. They were pretty excited and I’ll have to admit after all of the research I had done on the fruit, I was a little excited to see it myself.
We found the reserve, parked the car and walked into the forest that also features two small branches of Old Woman Creek. It was a nice hike and somewhat reminiscent of our hiking in Hocking Hills without all the cool rock features.
At first we found a few pawpaw trees and it looked as though the trees were either too small or it was too early for them to bear fruit, but as we continued down the trail we found a branch with three green fruits. I didn’t take a fruit, but I did take a picture.
If you want to see the pawpaw trees for yourself, the Hoffman Forest Reserve is at 5313 Huff Road in Berlin Heights. Be sure when looking for the state’s official native fruit you also look for a cardinal (official bird) and don’t step on a ladybug (official insect) or black racer snake (official reptile) and be sure to bring tomato juice (official beverage) and put Hang On Sloopy (official rock song) on your iPod for the trip.