In praise of astringent persimmons: 5 reasons you should grow them
The native American person (Diospyros virginia) is a common tree across much of the eastern half of the U.S. The tree is easy to grow and the small fruits of the American persimmon are edible and palatable when soft, which normally occurs after the first good freeze. But have you ever tried to eat (or been offered by a cruel prankster) a slice of firm American persimmon? It’s a brutal experience, with face contortions as your mouth suddenly feels like its been stuffed with dry cotton balls.
But…don’t discount astringent persimmons just yet. While the American persimmon is astringent, many varieties of cultivated Japanese persimmons are also astringent. What gives? Why would someone want to grow a fruit like that?
The answer is that the fruit of the American persimmon or most varieties of Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) are perfectly pleasant to eat if the fruit is handled properly. As long as the fruit of these persimmons is soft and fully ripe, the persimmons are as useful as any other fruit. With a little patience, the gardener can enjoy one of the easiest-to-grow fruit trees available.
So here are 5 reasons to grow persimmons (including and especially astringent ones):
They’re easy to grow. This is kind of a broad statement, but it’s true. For gardeners in the southern half of the US (and many part of California) and similar climates around the world, persimmons are fuss-free trees that demand little and yet produces plenty. They generally need minimal chill hours (usually under 400) and they bloom late, which means they usually avoid late spring frosts. And best of all, pollination from other varieties usually isn’t necessary in the South, due to the climate and how it impacts persimmon tree sexuality (that part should probably be listed as NSFW…)
They live a long time. The average number of productive years in an average modern peach tree is around 10-15 years. After this time, production tends to decline for peaches. This isn’t the case with persimmons. A persimmon tree will begin producing fruit at 3 years of age, and will begin heavy yields at about 6 years of age and continue production for 40+ years and probably longer.
They have few pests. In the US, persimmons are an easy fruit tree to grow organically because they have few insect pests or disease issues. And if insects or disease do happen to show up, such problems are easily controlled with organic sprays.
They aren’t picky on soil type. Most Japanese persimmons in the US are grafted on American persimmon rootstock. This means that Japanese persimmons will generally grow in any soil where American persimmon is comfortable. I’ve seen American persimmon growing in heavy soil and in sand. The root stock also has a wide tolerance for soil pH levels.
The fruit taste great! Even the astringent varieties, if ripened fully, taste great and can be dried, candied, or made into fruit leather and jelly. The only trick to getting astringent persimmons to become edible is to let them get soft. This can be accomplished by picking the fruit from the tree after the first freeze and placing it in a window for it to get soft. Persimmons will keep on a tree outdoors well into the winter – they can be picked and enjoyed as needed.
Some great astringent persimmons are:
Eureka – Developed in Texas and one of the best for the Gulf Coast, including down into Florida; drought and frost resistant; consistently self-pollinating.
Tani Nashi – An old favorite; beloved in Japan for drying; seedless and self-pollinating
Hachiya – Another favorite for drying; almost seedless; needs another astringent persimmon for pollination.
Tamopan – A uniquely shaped persimmon that came to the US from China over 100 years ago; a consistent bearer; fruit is astringent until fully ripe, when it becomes really sweet; seedless and self-pollinating.