I have started preparing an area for Oriental persimmons. These large fruited cousins of our native American persimmons are very different in many ways from the sour fruit that makes your mouth pucker.
Both fruiting trees are in the same genus, Diospryos. This Greek word translates to “divine fruit” or “food for God.” Several people I have turned on to this fruit agree — one described it as “manna.” Our native persimmon’s scientific name is Diospryos Virginiana. Take a guess as to where it may have first been discovered, classified and named... The famous botanist Carlos Linnaeus named it after the state of Virginia.
Diospryos Virginiana is a large growing tree with small fruit the size of ping pong balls packed full of large seeds. Unless completely soft and ripe, the fruit is very astringent. Most years, that doesn’t occur until about right now, after the first frost of the fall. However, the fruit turns orange as early as August or September, though it is not yet ready to eat. This is when unsuspecting people may be lured into trying one. Unripe American persimmons taste horrible — the soft ones found hanging on leafless trees in late fall are very tasty.
Diospryos Virginiana trees are either male or female. If you have a female tree, there must be a male tree fairly close by for fruit to occur.
The Oriental persimmon’s scientific name is Dispyros Kaki. It is very different than its American cousin. First of all, the Oriental persimmon fruit is huge. It is the size and color of a medium-sized ripe tomato. Unlike its American cousin, most Oriental persimmon are non-astringent and can be eaten while hard and not completely ripe. There are a few astringent ones that need to be soft before eaten but most of the ones on the market for consumers are non-astringent. There are usually no seeds or occasionally one or two in a fruit.
A mature Oriental persimmon tree is considered small for a fruit tree. A very large tree will only be about the size of a dogwood, which makes them perfect for smaller yards.
Oriental persimmons have “perfect” flowers, meaning both male and female parts exist on the same bloom, so only one tree is needed to have fruit — another space saver.
The native and Oriental persimmon trees do have a few things in common. Fall color for both is outstanding — the Oriental is bright orange and the native a brilliant red. Forget the fruit, plant them for the color.
Both trees have few pests. If, like me, you are not so adamant about spraying for insects and diseases — the Oriental persimmon is a great choice.
Both species are adaptable to a wide range of sites. But if you would like to start your Oriental tree off right, plant in deep, rich organic soil that receives regular irrigation. All in all, the Oriental persimmon is a tough, virtually pest free backyard fruit tree that should be planted more in the landscape.
A friend of mine who happens to be a master gardener dries the persimmon fruit and uses it along with dried apricot to make his own trail mix that he gives as presents. The fruit is also great in breads — just mix it in with the dough like a pumpkin bread for a delicious holiday hostess gift.
The best time to plant fruit trees is in the dormant season, which makes the persimmon trees themselves perfect Christmas gifts.