Want a bit of adventure in your fruit bowl? Instead of simply growing the apple, cherry or plum, try a persimmon tree. Before you spend money on trees though, know what you’re buying. There are astringent and non-astringent varieties of persimmons. Knowing this, along with whether your tree is Asian, Mexican or American, makes all the difference in tree shape and size, and fruit types. There are many different cultivars of persimmon, and it is important to ascertain which type of persimmon you will grow. Trees are somewhat expensive because they take time to get started in nurseries.
The botanical name for persimmons, Disospyros, is often translated to “food of the gods,” but some say this translation from the Greek isn’t quite accurate. Still, it gives you an idea of how much people throughout history have valued the persimmon. There is an American persimmon tree, D. virginiana, in a park where I walk nearly everyday. I see ripe fruit hanging from its tall branches just as the days grow cold, and I long to pick them and make persimmon pudding. Maybe this year I will.
American persimmons are not usually self-pollinating, but some named varieties are. If you choose a native seedling however, you will need a second tree to get a good harvest. Also, Asian and American persimmons will not cross pollinate. Whether you buy an Asian or American persimmon, consider a named cultivar because these have been selected for better fruit. American fruit is very soft when ripe and with thin skin not good for shipping—another reason to grow your own. All American persimmon trees have astringent fruit from tannins—like those in tea—so don’t eat fruit until fully ripe. Skin will be slightly puckered, and fruit will be soft. Ripening occurs from September through October depending upon where trees are grown. American persimmon trees are the largest of the species so consider the size of your planting area before buying an American variety. Mature size can be anywhere from 35-50’ tall depending upon growing conditions and pruning. American persimmons make great shade trees and have beautiful fall color. They are also very cold tolerant and perform well in Zones 5-9.
While American persimmon trees grow to be large shade trees, the Japanese persimmon is smaller and is often grown as a specimen tree. Persimmons are also grown and produced throughout Asia. In fact, they are one of the oldest fruits grown for market. D. kaki, known commonly as the Japanese or Asian persimmon is not as hardy as American varieties and should be grown in Zones 7-11. Fuyu Asian persimmons are non-astringent, and the fruit keeps well for several weeks after picking. Fuyus and other Asian persimmons are self-pollinating. Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro persimmon is the hardiest of the Asian varieties. Non-astringent persimmons like the Fuyu can be eaten when first ripe like an apple, or ripen further to the jelly stage to be eaten with a spoon.
Persimmons are extremely nutritious. In a comparative study between persimmons and apples, persimmons were shown to have “significantly higher concentrations of dietary fiber, mineral and phenolic (antioxidant) compounds.” They are highly recommended for a heart healthy diet.
There is also D. texana, the Mexican or black persimmon, which is a small tree or large shrub grown in the southern part of the North American continent. Its small, black fruit matures in August. The berries can be eaten when ripe, but are often stripped by animals. It is also the host plant of the Grey Hairstreak and Henry’s Elfin butterflies.
Check out this article on HGTV on how to plant and grow persimmons, and the next time a fruit tree tempts you, consider the persimmon. It’s a super fruit full of history and adventure, and not easily found in stores.