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The Oriental persimmon is a member of the Ebenaceae family, and is closely related to other persimmons, including D. lotus, the date plus; D. texana, the Texas persimmon and D. virginiana, the Native American persimmon. Found throughout the U.S. from Connecticut to Texas, the American persimmon's fruit is small, seedy, and extremely astringent until fully ripe, but has a delicious flavor. Not widely cultivated, it is a common wildlife food. There are over 200 species in the genus Diospyros. “Dios” means God, and “pyros” means food, thus the name means "food of the Gods." In addition to the production of fruit, the wood is especially hard in some species, notably D. ebenum of tropical Asia, which yields ebony. Native D. virginiana is often used for making golf clubs.
Commodore Perry brought Oriental persimmons from Japan to the U.S. in 1856. Afterward, large quantities were imported by the United States Department of Agriculture from 1870 through the 1920's. Large numbers of trees were planted in California and the Southeast in the 1930's, but these numbers have declined considerably. Although today, it is still a popular backyard tree. Almost all of the persimmon fruit currently sold in America is grown in California, where there are only about 700 acres in production with average yields of 5 tons per acre.
The Oriental persimmon has a diversely shaped fruit, coming in rounded, conical, square, or lobed shapes which are a beautiful yellow to orange or deep red when ripe, and can weigh up to a pound each. The trees are small, usually no more than 20 ? 30 feet tall with a rounded crown and large, lustrous, dark green leaves. In autumn, the leaves often turn a bright crimson and, with its orange fruit, is a beautiful sight—especially on a gray, fall day. In the Orient, the fruit is often left to freeze on the tree, which are then picked and eaten like popsicles all winter!
The potential market for persimmons appears to be much larger than what is currently being tapped. Persimmon orchards begin to produce in the third or fourth year, with full production reached in 10 years. Under favorable conditions, development costs can be amortized by the tenth year of production. However, the principal deterrent to increased plantings is the lack of consumer awareness and acceptance. The astringency of persimmons has caused many unknowing buyers to never want to try them again after biting into some unripe fruit. The production of non?astringent varieties, coupled with good consumer education through both through the popular press and at the marketplace, is essential for persimmons to gain the popularity in this country that this unique and delicious fruit deserves.
Oriental persimmons can be divided into two classes—astringent and non?astringent. Astringent varieties gain their astringency from soluble tannins that disappear as the fruit ripens and softens. They will pucker the mouth until completely soft. Non?astringent persimmons, however, can be eaten when still firm, without any astringency whatsoever. Some varieties are astringent if the fruit is not pollinated (parthenocarpic development) and are non?astringent if seeded. Varieties also vary in tree habit, growth, and form. In most cases, dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties are more precocious than vigorous, upright varieties.
Giant Fuyu (“Fuyugaki” means winter persimmon) is a large (220 g), round, flat fruit that ripens to a deep, beautiful red with a blue blush at full maturity. The fruit has excellent flavor and a long shelf life. A vigorous, spreading tree with good fruit set, it produces no female flowers, and is incompatible with D. lotus rootstock. Some parthenocarpic ability (pollination) assures fruit set. It is one of, if not the best, commercial persimmon variety—especially in the southeast, where it rates highly in all of its characteristics.
Ichikikeijiro is a large (250 g), orange-red fruit with good taste, ripening in mid?October. The tree is dwarf and spreading with medium fruit set, and produces only female flowers. The fruit is of very good grade and stores well. This is considered a very promising commercial cultivar.
Hanagosho ("flower of the Imperial Place") is an excellent variety, with medium (180 g) quadranted, yellow-orange fruit with excellent taste and good harvesting and storage characteristics. It ripens late. The tree is vigorous and upright and has some male flowers. It is a very good variety from many aspects.
Jiro ? An old cultivar discovered many years ago, with large (250 g), orange-red fruit and good taste. The tree is upright and vigorous with good fruit set, and produces only female blossoms. It ripens in late October, and is still a favorite cultivar in Japan.
Suruga is a recently produced Hanagosho X Oku?gosho cross from Japan. It has large (220 g), orange-red fruit, very sweet and better even than Giant Fuyu, with a long shelf life. The tree is vigorous and upright with good fruit set, and produces only female flowers. Fruit ripens late November. An excellent cultivar, it prefers a warmer climate.
Shogatsu ? Large, sweet fruit ripening to deep reddish-orange. The tree is medium-size and spreading, and produces lots of male flowers with medium fruit set. Fruit ripens in October, and has long storage capability, but is not as good a quality as other varieties.
Hanafuyu ("winter flower") is an obliquely rounded fruit, large (200 g), sweet, juicy, with reddish?orange color. Tree is dwarf, and bears in September and October.
Saijo ("the very best one") has a small (150 g), elongated, orange- yellow fruit with superb taste. The tree is vigorous with spreading upright form, has no male flowers, and has good fruit set. Fruit is of the best quality and astringency is easily removed. The unique shape and best taste of all make this an excellent variety.
Tanenashi ("without seed") is a very early U.S. introduction, it is common throughout the southeast. The orange-colored fruit is large and conical in shape. The tree is dwarf and very heavy bearing, the fruit always being seedless. Matures in September and October.
Hachiya makes up about 90 percent of the orchards in California. While astringent until fully ripe, the fruit is large (200 g), oblong, conical, and deep orange-red. It is usually seedless but if pollinated, dark coloration appears around the seed. Pollinators are not needed for good production. It has a good spreading tree form, and good fruit set. Appealing fruit color and taste.
Eureka is a heavy?producing, medium?sized, flat?shaped, extremely high?quality red persimmon. The tree is relatively small and is self?fruitful. The fruit contains seeds normally. Eureka has proven to be the most reliably producing persimmon.
Tamopan is moderately productive with very large, orange, flat?shaped persimmons and a distinctive ring constriction near the middle of the fruit. The tree is vigorous and upright.
Oku?gosho is medium-size (180 g), orange-yellow color, rounded shape, and of good quality. A vigorous, spreading tree with good fruit set, fruit ripens in September.
Hira?tanenaeshi ("flat seedless") is a medium-size (200 g), flat and squarish fruit that is orange-yellow and has excellent taste. Fruit ripens early and astringency is easily removed. Tree is spreading and vigorous. Very popular in Japan, it is not cold hardy.
Korean is a medium-size (180 g), yellow-orange, rounded fruit with good taste. The tree is medium-size and spreading, and is quite productive. Fruit ripens early in September. The tree is cold hardy.
Yamatohykume has very large (300 g), red-orange fruit. The tree form is upright, and fruit ripens in late October. Flesh is often chocolate or cinnamon in color due to pollination.
Gionbo has extremely large (up to 400 g), conical, orange fruit with very good taste, but often cracks at the tips. The tree is very heavy bearing with vigorous and spreading shape.
Great Wall was introduced from China by J. Russell Smith. It has small (150 g), deep orange-red, squarish fruit with very sweet taste. The semi- dwarf tree is spreading and extremely heavy bearing. Fruit ripens mid August through September. The tree is very cold hardy, down to at least 0 degrees F.
Oriental persimmons are divided into tree flowering groups. Some varieties bear only pistillate (female) flowers, while some bear both pistillate and staminate (male) flowers. Most of the common commercial cultivars occur in the first group, producing fruit parthenocarpically without pollination. Pollination does not necessarily insure heavy fruiting, but may be necessary in some varieties to promote fruit set. Good pollinator varieties are Gailey and Gosho.
In "pollination constant" persimmons, the flesh remains clear regardless of seed formation. In "pollination variant" varieties, the production of seeds is associated with dark tannin coloration of the flesh surrounding the seed. If no seeds are present, the flesh remains clear. In astringent pollination variant varieties, the dark flesh surrounding the seeds becomes non?astringent, while the clear flesh in the rest of the fruit remains astringent until ripe. The production of dark flesh is sometimes a deterrent to sales in the marketplace.
Three species of Diospyros are used commonly for rootstocks, each providing different characteristics. In the east, D. virginiana is the most commonly used rootstock, often as top worked seedlings found growing wild in the field. Though good in some situations, D. virginiana has a very strong tap root with little side branching and, thus, transplants poorly. D. virginiana also is subject to excessive suckering, and is susceptible to Cephalosporium wilt.
D. kaki provides a better rootstock because of a more fibrous root system. It is not as cold hardy as D. virginiana, and is not easily available in the east.
In California, the most common understock in use today is D. lotus. It produces uniform seedlings with little suckering, and is adaptable to a number of soil conditions. However, some varieties, such as Giant Fuyu, are incompatible on D. lotus.
Almost all Oriental persimmons are propagated by grafting onto seedling rootstocks. Reproduction by cuttings has been tried, but is not very successful. Rootstocks for persimmons are grown from seed, and the seeds can be planted out after removal from the fruit. Though not necessary in hot climates, typically the seed is stratified at 45 degrees for 60?90 days, and then germinated in the greenhouse, or planted out in the field. Germination of only 25?35 percent is common. Transplanting of liners eliminates skips in the row, and by using seed beds, produces better laterally branched root systems. Plants are set 8-12 inches apart in the row, and rows are spaced 3-4 inches apart.
One season's growth is usually needed for rootstock to obtain 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch caliper necessary for grafting. Grafting is most successful during the dormant season and just as the sap begins to flow in the spring. Cleft grafting is also practiced for topworking larger sized stock, especially native D. virginiana seedlings in the field. Budding is successful in August and September using T?bud or chip bud with plastic wrapping and mature wood from the present season's growth. Seasonal timing of budding is very important; at this season, the bud heals in and stays dormant until the following spring at which time the rootstock above the bud is cut off and the bud pushed with the new year's growth.
Oriental persimmons are adapted to a wide variety of subtropical and warm temperate climate conditions. In the east, they can be grown from coastal Virginia throughout much of the coastal plain to Texas, and on the Pacific coast from southern California north to Oregon. They are deciduous and enter a dormant period, and most varieties seem to have little or no chilling requirement to produce uniform budbreak. They bloom late enough, in April to miss spring frosts in most areas. Mature trees can withstand 10 degrees F., and some varieties, such as Great Wall, can survive even colder temperatures. A long, warm growing season is required for fruit maturation, though this varies by variety. Astringency is reduced by increasing temperature, and cool summers cause improper fruit maturation, including low sugar content and poor color.
Though Oriental persimmons can be grown on a wide variety of soil types, they prefer a deep, fertile, well?drained sandy loam, of pH 6.0?7.0. They will produce better than most other fruit trees on heavier clay soils, but fruit drop and lower yields are sometimes associated. High organic content is desirable, providing increased nutrients and moisture holding capacity to sandy soils and better soil structure to heavy soils.
Choose a site that allows for good air drainage to protect the trees from freeze damage to the wood. Planting of nursery stock should be done during the dormant season. Care should be taken to avoid having roots dry out if bare rootstock is used; container?grown stock can be transplanted most any time during the year if adequate moisture is provided after planting. Dig a hole large enough to accept all of the root system; broken or extra long roots should be pruned. Do not place manure or fertilizer in the hole or fertilize at all at planting time. Place the tree upright and plant at the same height it was grown at in the nursery, with the bud union above the ground. Soil should be firm around the roots, and irrigated thoroughly to saturation after planting. Weed control is essential within 2-3 feet of the trunk, and this area must be kept clean by shallow cultivation or mulch. A cover crop of grass or legumes can be grown between orchard rows for the first several years of orchard life.
Irrigation is essential to the establishment of a successful orchard, and will be important to fruit set and development. Though variable due to soil conditions (sandy soil requiring more and heavy soils less), trees should be thoroughly saturated at least once per week during establishment if dry conditions persist and no rainfall occurs. Soil should be soaked several feet deep underneath the canopy. In dry summer climates, drip or mini?sprinkler under the tree irrigation systems will be important for full fruit maturation. In the eastern U.S., with humid, wet summers, irrigation will be needed usually only during orchard establishment and occasionally during prolonged dry spells in the spring. Availability of moisture determines fruit quantity and size. However, too much moisture during fruit ripening may cause skin splitting and cracking, and prolonged soil saturation may cause root damage.
Application of a slow-release, complete (19?5?9 with trace elements) fertilizer is suggested at a rate of 1 pound per year of age up to a maximum of 10 pounds per year for mature trees. After planting, trees should not be fertilized until April or May the first year, and thereafter, 1/2 of the required amount spread evenly under the tree in January and the rest applied in June. Micronutrient deficiencies can be corrected with foliar applications. Over?fertilization will promote overly rapid growth and excessive fruit drop.
Young trees should be headed back to 3 feet when planted, and the trees should be trained to form a modified leader system with well?spaced laterals. Stake the tree in areas of strong winds. A strong framework of 3 to 5 main limbs spaced 1 foot apart should be developed, pinching off the rest of the vigorous shoot growth during the first one or two years of growth. Only light pruning during the dormant season should be necessary once the trees begin production, primarily of weak, shaded out or crossed over branches. Because flowers are borne on current season's growth, moderate pruning helps to stimulate new growth, but excessive pruning will promote long shoots that break and too much vigorous growth that causes fruit drop. Light pruning helps keep trees producing well and structurally strong to support heavy crops. On some heavy?bearing varieties, it may be necessary to thin fruit or brace limbs accordingly.
Fruit drop is caused by excessive vegetative growth. Persimmons do not need large amounts of fertilizer. Too much fertilization coupled with optimum soil moisture can produce excess growth, as can too much pruning, thus causing more fruit drop than in a slower growing tree. Young trees drop fruit more, especially under stress, than older trees. Cutting back on pruning and nitrogen can reduce this growth and thus fruit drop.
Oriental persimmons are not affected by many pests. Scale insects can be a problem but they can be controlled with a dormant soil spray. Citrus mealybugs (Coccus species) can sometimes be a problem. Citrus nematodes can occur on persimmons, but do not cause much damage. Crown gall (Bacterium tumefacien) can be serious, and can be avoided by not planting infected stock and not damaging trees, thus avoiding potential infection sites. Leaf spot (Cercospora kaki), Cephlosporium wilt, and anthracnose (Gloeosporium kaki) are also problems, especially on D. virginiana rootstock as well as D. kaki. These can be treated by systemic fungicides, and mite insecticide applications to reduce vector insect populations.
Persimmons generally ripen from late August until early December, depending on climate and region. Persimmons are harvested by clipping, leaving the calyx and a short piece of the stem attached to the fruit. Fruit is picked when it has attained the proper color, but is still firm. If picked before fully colored, the fruit will often ripen poorly or unevenly, and be harder to market. Careful handling is very important to minimize bruising. Bruising causes brown spots that decrease marketability. Using picking buckets (not bags) and rigid bins for transporting fruit in from the orchard will reduce damage. Persimmons are typically graded for size and quality and packed for shipping in 1 to 2- layer lugs, and sometimes with plastic tray packs in 1 to 2- layer boxes. Fruit may be ripened in a warm environment (60 degrees to 70 degrees F) for 1?3 weeks. Fruit may be stored at 32 degrees to 34 degrees F to extend the market period for 1?4 months. Astringent varieties have a longer shelf life than non?astringent varieties. Instructions for how to eat and use fruit should be included in packaging and displayed at the groceries. There are many untapped local markets for persimmons, besides shipments to larger urban markets.
Astringent persimmons that lose their astringency as they ripen can sometimes be slow to ripen. The process can be hastened by freezing the fruit for 24 hours. When thawed, they are both soft and free of astringency, and ready to eat. An apple can be placed with the persimmons in a plastic bag or among the ripening fruit. Ethylene gas released by the apple will speed up the ripening process. Periodic flushing with 70?90 percent CO?2 in a sealed chamber for 1?4 days will also remove astringency while maintaining fruit firmness, and can prolong shelf life if done after cold storage. Fruit treated in this manner should be tested periodically for astringency reduction by placing a cut slice on dry filter paper previously treated with 5 percent ferric chloride. The more intense the color produced, the more astringent the fruit remains.
Persimmons are delicious whether eaten fresh, dried, or cooked. As a fresh fruit, they are unsurpassed. The taste of a fully ripe persimmon is superb, incomparable to any other fruit.
Persimmons can be used fresh in salads, appetizers, or as a dessert or topping, chilled or frozen. They are excellent in ice cream, with yogurt, or in smoothies. Cooked or baked, they are delicious in cakes, breads, puddings, cookies, cobblers, pies, and pastries. Persimmons also make wonderful preserves and jams.
Freezing is a popular method of preserving persimmons. They can be peeled before freezing and frozen whole or pureed in plastic containers. In this manner, they will keep a year or more.
Drying is the other principal method of storage, especially
in the Orient. Persimmons may be dried when ripe and still firm. After
being peeled, and either sun dried, dried in a commercial dryer or in
an oven on low heat, they are stored in air tight containers in a cool,
dark place. Persimmon pulp may also be spread on foil in a flat pan
and dried into jerky. During drying, sugar crystals form over the surface
of the fruit, creating an appealing product. Dried persimmons are high
in dextrose and similar to dried peaches in food value. An excellent
set of recipes can be found in "Persimmons for Everyone,"
by Eugene and Mary E. Griffith, published by the North American Fruit
Explorers, c/o Dorothy Nichols, Route 2, Box 13, Arcola, MO 65603.