PawPaw seedlings look a lot like hickory seedlings. In the photo you can see who’s who, but without the labels it’s easy to mistake one for the other. One way to tell the difference is the leaf arrangement. When they’re both older, it’s much easier to see that the leaves are arranged differently on the branches. But when there’s only one main stem still, you can still tell because the pawpaws are alternate and opposite and whorl down the stem. Hickories are pinnate and each stem, even when there is only one, has five leaves with one being at the tip. Usually the hickories branch and make two or three stems of leaves, though.
This spring I’ll try to pick a leaf from each to compare side by side without the stems attached. They’re even more similar that way, especially in early spring. As the season wears on, though, the hickory leaf texture hardens and becomes a different green. PawPaw seedlings retain the tender green all year long.
While hickories may or may not grow in good ginseng habitat, anywhere the pawpaws are growing naturally usually is. They love the dark, moist forests. As an understory tree, they never get so large as the hickories. All the wild critters, especially bears and raccoons, love the fruits, so I rarely get to see one of those once they’re ripe.
Here’s a pic of the pawpaw flower buds.