Persimmon: Food of the gods


When it comes to choosing landscape trees, I look for trees that have multi-season interest.  I’ve seen too many fleeting beauties that bear a fireworks display of flowers in the spring that lasts for a week or two, and then they disappear into the landscape.

Kaki persimmon 11_3_2014

‘Fuyu’ on the left and ‘Hiyashi’ Asian persimmon on the right.

I like trees that make you look twice.  Spring flowers, lustrous green leaves in summer, and yellowish to reddish-purple leaves in the fall.  When the leaves drop, brilliantly colored edible fruits hang from the limbs like Christmas ornaments.  They can range in size from a plum to a peach, and in color from yellow to deep orange-red. Then in winter, the thick, nearly black bark cut into neat squares looks like the back of an alligator.

I’m writing about persimmons.  You’re probably familiar with our native persimmon (Diospyros virgininana), which can reach a height of 30 to 60 ft.  It’s often found in abandoned fields, along highways, pastures, and roadside ditches.  Native persimmons are prone to suckering wildly, so if you have one, chances are you’ll have a grove in a short time.  The plum-sized, yellow to orange fruit is small and seedy. Firm, unripened fruit will make your mouth pucker up and will teach you the meaning of the word astringent. To avoid the sensation of a mouthful of cotton balls, pick the fully colored fruit when it’s fully colored;  allow it to ripen and soften indoors. It is a misconception that makes persimmons edible. In fact, frost damages immature fruit on the tree.

Native persimmons are usually dioecious, which means they produce either male or female flowers. Rarely are native persimmons self-pollinating. Both male and female trees are required to produce a full crop.

I prefer Oriental or Kaki persimmon (Disopyros kaki) cultivars, which have a refined look and have been bred and selected for their juicy, sometimes seedless, peach-sized fruit. They are self-fertile and are smaller than native persimmons, often maturing to a height of 20 to 30 ft., although some cultivars grow no higher than 10 feet. For improved drought tolerance, choose Kaki persimmon grafted onto native persimmon rootstock.

Oriental persimmons are subdivided into two classes: astringent and non-astringent. The astringent type should be completely soft before eating. The non-astringent types are firmer and can be eaten prior to softening. Oriental persimmons may produce male, female and/or perfect flowers on the same tree and do not need cross-pollination to set fruit. In case you’re wondering, native and Oriental persimmons will not cross-pollinate. If you purchase a Kaki persimmon, chose on that’s grafted onto native persimmon rootstock for improved drought tolerance. Popular cultivars that grow well in our area include the astringent Hachiya, Sajio, Sheng, and Tanenashi. Non-astringent types include Fuyu, Fuyu Imoto, Hana Fuyu, Hana Gosho, Izu, and Jiro.

I discovered that native and Asian persimmons are attractive throughout the year, but most delectable during the Fall season.

Bob Polomski (c) 2015


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