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They were on a large tree in the mountains of North Carolina.

enter image description here

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I believe this is the paw paw tree or Asimina triloba.

  • It does grow in North Carolina
  • the leaves come to a sharp point as they do in the picture
  • it grows in a variety of habitats up to 40' (13 M) tall but usually not more than 25' (8-9 M) tall
  • it has large clusters of fruit which start green and ripen to a yellow colour
  • bark is described as "Smooth, brown, splotched with wart-like lenticels, often with light gray patches." The patches can be seen on the smaller branches
  • alternate simple leaves

Positive identification would be crushing a leaf and confirming a green pepper odor. This answer has more details on growing and the difficulties of harvesting the fruit.

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    That was my first thought - the shape of leaves and clustering of fruit are right. My reservations is the color and texture of the fruit and the description of it being a "large tree". It is difficult to tell from the photo, but it looks like those fruit are brown and maybe even have a rough texture. Paw Paw might be ripening now (though I typically think of them as being a bit later in the season), but they tend to go from green to yellow to black as they sit on the tree. Cutting open the fruit would be a definitive test.
    – That Idiot
    Aug 19 '16 at 11:47
  • The fruit of Pawpaw is edible, tastes kind of like vanilla custard. You pick out the large seeds. There are plenty of recipes online: google.com/search?q=pawpaw+recipes&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 Aug 19 '16 at 13:49
  • If not paw paw, maybe a variety of yellow plum.
    – Debbie M.
    Aug 19 '16 at 15:33
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I can tell you with confidence that this is Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava)

Pawpaw was a good thought, but you're right, the fruit texture and shape isn't right. Pawpaws are very smooth are more elongated.

If you look at the picture closely, those leaves are palmately compound. Pawpaw is a simple leaf and it is rarely found in high elevation areas of NC. In fact, I rarely find pawpaw wild in the NC mountains in general.

Yellow Buckeye is commonly found in high elevations, can become a large tree (I have found some about 6' dbh), and would have had fruit that size when you asked this question. They are found in rich coves, or mesic slopes and are an indicator of rich soil.

If you had pulled a fruit off the tree you could have opened it and found where it gets the name "buckeye". The seed looks like the eye of a buck. You're supposed to keep one in your pocket for good luck, you know?

I'm going to take a wild guess. Did you take this picture in Great Smoky National Park?

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  • Very nice catch with the palmately compound leaves. Fruit also consistent with buckeye.
    – That Idiot
    Sep 2 '16 at 0:21

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