Pawpaw is a large shrub to small tree with a slender trunk and broad crown; grows in colonies.
Leaves are alternate, simple, 6–12 inches long, 3–5 inches wide, broadest above the middle; margin lacking teeth; upper surface green; lower surface pale; emitting an odor when bruised.
Bark is light ash to dark brown, thin, smooth, later becoming warty with blotches.
Twigs are slender, olive-brown, often blotched, smooth, becoming rougher when older, often with a warty surface. Emits a disagreeable odor when crushed; terminal bud velvet brown, lacking scales; flower bud rounded, overwinters on previous year’s twig.
Flowers March–May; perfect (with male and female parts in same flower), dark reddish purple, solitary, drooping, about 1 inch across, appearing before the leaves and with an odor of fermenting purple grapes.
Fruits September–October. Banana-shaped, cylindrical, 3–5 inches long, green at first and yellow when ripe; pulp sweet, edible, with custardy texture.