(News article for Sept. 18, 2020)
I remember both my first native persimmon and my first oriental persimmon.
My grandmother and I were out walking in her neighborhood when I was about four years old, when we came across a native persimmon tree. I bit into an unripe one. If you’ve ever done this, you’ll understand why I still remember it.
I tried my first oriental persimmon when I was home from college at the time of the Washington Parish Fair. My grandparents’ neighbors shared some oriental persimmons from the tree in their yard. I was immediately taken with this fruit that could be eaten with a spoon, like pudding.
My appreciation for persimmons was further supported by my introduction to persimmon pudding, a delicious dessert that can be made with either native or oriental persimmon pulp, when I lived in North Carolina.
Native persimmons grow on trees that can reach 50 feet high and 35 feet wide. These typically produce either female or male flowers, but not both. Only female-flowered trees produce fruit, but the fruit does not develop without pollination, so a male-flowered tree must be in the area.
Female-flowered varieties of native persimmon can be purchased. Or, if you know of a native persimmon tree that produces good fruit, another option is to propagate it by root cuttings or chip budding. If you just grow a tree from a native persimmon seed, you won’t know whether it will have male or female flowers until it gets older.
As alluded to at the beginning of the article, the fruit of native persimmons is astringent due to a high tannin content before it’s ripe, so be sure to wait until it’s soft before you eat it.
Oriental persimmon trees are smaller than native persimmon trees, but the fruit is larger. The fruit of many oriental persimmon varieties can develop parthenocarpically, or without pollination.
The mature size of oriental persimmon trees varies among varieties, with some reaching up to 30 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide. Others only grow to around 6 to 8 feet wide.
While native persimmons are astringent until ripe, some oriental persimmons are considered non-astringent and can be eaten, like an apple, while still fairly firm. Non-astringent varieties include Fuyu, Fuyu Imoto, Hana Fuyu, Jiro, and Suruga.
As with native persimmons, you’ll need to wait until fruit is soft before eating astringent varieties like Eureka, Hachiya, Saijo, and Tanenashi. (There are actually some astringent varieties that, if pollinated and thus seeded, are non-astringent prior to fully ripening. However, we often grow oriental persimmons without a pollinizing variety nearby.)
Persimmon trees are sold in both containerized and bare-root forms. Fall is a good time to plant containerized plants, although with enough care they can be planted year-round. Only plant bareroot plants while they’re dormant.
Oriental persimmons are often grafted onto native persimmon rootstock. When planting a grafted plant, make sure the graft union is at least 2 inches above the soil line.
Like most fruit trees, persimmons should be planted on a well-drained site and, for maximum fruit production, in full sun.
During late winter, cut back newly planted oriental persimmons trees to about 3 feet, or approximately 6 inches above wherever you want the lowest branches to be.
Fertilize trees each year around time of budbreak with 0.5 pound of 8-8-8 (or equivalent, such as 0.3 pound 13-13-13) per year of tree age, up to a maximum of 5 pounds 8-8-8 per tree. Spread fertilizer around the drip line.
Keep turfgrass and weeds away from the base of the trunk so that they won’t compete with the tree for nutrients and water.
Let me know if you have questions.
Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.
Illustration of a 'Fuyu' oriental persimmon. (Source: R.G. Steadman, Bugwood.org)
Native persimmons against a November sky. (Photo by M.H. Ferguson)