The Persimmon Tree:
Centuries of Fall Colors and Sweet Rewards
I have really been enjoying the fallcolors of the persimmon trees at Raintree. The trees’ foliage lends warmhues to gray days. From dark greens, yellows, and golds, to burntorange, bronze, and carnal, rich reds the leaves strikingly contrastagainst backdrops of dull gray bark and flat gray-green fir boughs atthe edge of the forest.
Persimmons hold onto colorful leaves into late fall, making for an attractive landscape tree. The color of the persimmon leaves at Raintree started to change in late September or early October and seemed to peak for some in the last couple of weeks before Halloween. That pagan night has passed now and the cold, winter rains of November have put a damper on fall celebrations. The royal-golden shine of ripening persimmon fruits still gives some cause to rejoice, though. The sweetness of a persimmon tastes to me like a great antidote to darker days.
Fig 1. Asian persimmon (D. kaki) still ripening
The persimmon trees in Raintree’s orchards could live to see many more autumns and give many more sweet,pudding-like fruits. The persimmon is a very long-lived fruit tree. One persimmon in a temple in Japan is reportedly at least 400 years-old. The Asian or oriental persimmon (Diospyroskaki)is what most people probably think of as a persimmon. These originated in China, where they have been cultivated for 2000 years, and spread to Korea and Japan. Other members of the persimmon genus include the black sapote (Diospyros digyna) of the subtropical and tropical Americas, the velvet apple (D. discolor) from the Philippines, the date-plum (D. lotus) from southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia, the Texas Persimmon (D. texana), and the American Persimmon (D. virginiana). Persimmons (species in the genus Diospyros) fall into the ebony family Ebenaceae. Members of this family typically have very hard wood. Persimmon wood can make excellent furniture. The Asian persimmon is the main commercially important species for fruit.Thousands of named varieties have been developed.
We have American and Asian persimmon trees in our orchards at Raintree. The American persimmons’ fruit is less than half the size of the Asian persimmons’ and differs in flavor.American persimmons are astringent, meaning high levels of tannins in them make them inedible until they soften. They will soften off the tree, but come to their fullest flavor softening on the tree, especially after the first frost. Their texture and consistency becomes like pudding and the flavor is rich, with hints of cinnamon. A few of the American persimmons at Raintree are over 20 feet tall and have developed over decades into stately trees. I found it useful to top a couple of them judiciously this past summer because their height was becoming unmanageable. I need to be able to access them from the orchard ladder!
Fig 2. American persimmon (D. virginiana)
Some Asian persimmons are astringent,while others are non-astringent. Non-astringent fruits taste best after being allowed to soften slightly on or off the tree, but they are edible when hard. In my home orchard, I have a parthenocarpic non-astringent Asian persimmon, a Fuyu variety from Japan. Its being parthenocarpic means that the flowers will become seedless fruit without pollination (I don’t need another persimmon as a pollenizer tree). In the wild persimmons are dioecious (with separate male and female trees) and therefore require at least two trees (one male, one female) to set seeded fruit. Like many other selected persimmon varieties, my Fuyu is naturally dwarfing and will be easy to maintain as a “pedestrian” tree(everything within reach) through pruning. Pruning can also help keep the tree from going into biennial bearing (bearing the bulk of its fruit every other year), which can occur with persimmons.
Fig 3. Asian persimmon fruit (D. kaki)
Fig 4. Asian persimmon tree (D. kaki)
Persimmons can be dried, which makes them taste reminiscent of dates. They can be served soft with a spoon,or sliced when firm (if non-astringent). Frozen soft persimmon is a real treat. They also can be made into jams. Having already sampled many American persimmons this year from our trees, I’m looking forward to picking and letting soften an Asian persimmon. One of those shiny golden beauties is like a whole dessert!
Happy growing! Because, after all, change is the only constant. -Xander Rose