CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Mid-September is peak time for picking pawpaws in West Virginia; here’s what you need to know about harvesting the unique fruit.

Where pawpaw trees grow (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Pawpaws are fruits that grow on small trees in the eastern part of the U.S., from southern Wisconsin to northern Georgia. In West Virginia, they grow in every county except those in high elevations, according to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. You could describe them as a cross between a mango and a banana, and nicknames include “West Virginia banana” and “hillbilly mango.” But with a very short shelf life, pawpaws can be hard to get ahold of.

Pawpaw trees are small—about 12 to 20 feet—and usually grow in groups in places with moist, rich soil. You can identify them by their large, teardrop-shaped leaves.

Pawpaw tree (Courtesy: James St. John via Wikimedia Commons)

The fruit is green throughout most of the year and is ready to be picked when it begins to turn yellowish-brown and becomes soft to the touch. Sometimes they will also get small brown spots.

When pawpaws are ripe, they will fall or be almost falling off the tree, which means that wildlife, like squirrels and foxes, often get to them first. If you find a tree with ripe fruit still on it, one way to only take the ripe ones is it shake the tree, according to WV Tourism.

Pawpaws will not ripen off the tree, so make sure you do not pick them before they are ready.

Pawpaw fruit (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Exact pawpaw seasons vary based on location, but in general, they should be picked between mid-August and early October. Sept. 15 is National Pawpaw Day because it is peak time for harvesting.

Once you have your pawpaws, make sure to only eat the flesh of the fruit and avoid the seeds and skin. Common ways to eat pawpaws include in pie, bread, jelly and ice cream.

West Virginia has a particular affinity for the pawpaw. A small town along the Potomac River in Morgan County affectionately holds the name Pawpaw, and the West Virginia Pawpaw Festival is set to take place next week on Saturday, Sept. 24 at the WVU Core Arboretum. More information about next week’s festivities can be found here.