Highly regarded in Eastern culture for thousands of years, the Persimmon has rightly so started to gain more appreciation in the West. Whether on the tree, or suddenly appearing in the fruit isles of your stores and markets, the bright and cheerful fruits of Persimmon provide a welcome dazzle to the winter. Being easy to grow, producing a reliable crop of delicious fruits, and generally untroubled by pests and diseases, this is a perfect tree for permaculture and forest gardens. During this post we’ll take a close look at these incredible plants, including how to grow them, their many uses, growing them in polycultures and permaculture settings, and I’ll introduce some lovely pest and disease resistant cultivars that we are offering from the bio nursery this season.
Persimmon belongs to the Genus Diospyros a part of the family Ebenaceae, a family well represented in tropical Africa and Asia. The plants were evidently given the nod of approval from our Greek ancestors, as the name we use for the genus today was how the Greeks referred to the plant, with Dios meaning divine. The plants are thought to have been consumed as a food source long before the Hellenistic period, way back in the prehistoric era in the far east, where they today remain a highly favoured fruit, with over a thousand different cultivars in existence.
The genus Diospyroscontains almost 400 species, but when we speak of Persimmon there are generally three species we are referring to;Diospyros virginiana (D.virginiana) is the species native to North America – hence its common name American persimmon; Diospyros lotus – Date Plum is of central Asian descent, and; Diospyros kaki (D.kaki), refers to Japanese persimmon, which is actually thought to be native to China! There is also a fair bit of hybridization between these species.
An easy way to tell the plants apart when not in fruit is by the leaves. D.kaki has significantly rounder leaves in comparison to the other two species, while D.lotus has glossy leaves. Both D.lotus and D. virginianahave leaves that are lance-shaped.
All species are relatively easy to grow, mostly free from pests and diseases and crop reliably.
D. virginiana is not generally considered a commercial crop, although they are very productive. The fruit of D. virginiana is smaller (plum sized) than that of D. kaki (peach sized) and it reportedly has a uniquely rich texture with a high sugar content, tolerating much lower temperatures than D.kaki and D.lotus. For gardens with very cold winters of USDA hardiness 5 or lower, D. virginiana is probably the only persimmon you will be able to grow. D.lotus aka Date Plum is a great plant for warmer climes, also with small and abundant fruits. My only experience of the fruit has been a positive one, picking them dry from the tree in December in the Pontic mountains of North Turkey. They tasted very date like and plummy indeed.
|Diospyros spp. Fruits and Leaves – D.virginiana photo from www.plantsmap.com/plants/5577|
The fruit you are likely to be most familiar with in the stores is that of Diospyros kaki – Japanese Persimmon. The fruit of D. kaki is delicate, luxurious and juicy with a gelatinous texture. There are 1000’s of cultivars that are classified into two general groups: astringent and non-astringent. The astringent cultivars need to entirely soften before being palatable and are generally picked hard and ripened indoors, whereas the non-astringent fruit will ripen hard and can be picked off the tree ready to eat like an apple. If your only experience of eating persimmon is of an unripe astringent cultivar plucked from a tree in late Autumn, I’m sure you never intend to try one again and are completely perplexed by why anyone would even consider eating such repugnance. I encourage you to try again with a ripe and ready fruit :) Seeing as almost all commercial production today is of D. kaki, this species will be the subject of this post.
|Diospyros kaki ripening on our tree in late November|
Japanese Persimmon- Diospyros kaki
Latin name – Diospyros kaki
Common name – Japanese Persimmon, Kaki Tree, Sharon Fruit, Fruit of Sharon. The Bulgarian name – “Pайска ябълка” meaning “heavenly apple” seems an appropriate title.
Family – Ebenaceae
History– The origins of D.kaki are thought to be in China where it has been cultivated for over two thousand years. The plants spread to neighbouring countries including Japan around the eighth century AD, where it still enjoys celebrity status with the dried fruits being used as decorations during the New Year holiday. It would have found its way into the middle east and Eastern Europe with traders, no doubt, and was highly valued in those lands, where it is still commonly grown today. By the late 1700’s, cultivation had begun in Western Europe and at some point in the mid-1800’s, it was being grown in California.
|Bertha Lum – 1934 – Persimmon market – Japan|
As mentioned above, cultivars of D.kaki are categorized as astringent and non-astringent. It’s interesting to note that all original cultivars were astringent until a mutant tree arose at some point in Japan that produced non-astringent fruits. This chance occurrence triggered breeding programs around the world for non-astringent cultivars. One famous example of a somewhat modern non-astringent cultivar is the Israeli cultivar ‘Triumph’ that was marketed as Sharon Fruit after the Sharon Plain in Israel, where the plants are commercially grown.
Growing range – Indigenous to the mountainous regions of China, and possibly through to Japan and Korea, today Persimmon are cultivated all over the world in a wide range of climate conditions that range from subtropical coastal regions, to warm inland temperate areas Around 70% of the production today remains in China. Some reports say Persimmon are found wild in China, growing up to 2400 m (8000 ft) altitude. The bulk of commercial cultivation in Europe takes place in Italy.
|Diospyros kaki – Persimmon – Native Range – UCONN|
Description – Growing at a medium rate, D.kaki can reach 9-12 m in height and 8 m in width. A multi-trunked or single-stemmed deciduous tree, it can definitely be described as ornamental with a tropical twist. Its life span is thought to be around 40 – 60 years. The fruits somewhat resemble a bizarre cross between a tomato and a pumpkin and remain on the trees like lanterns long after the strikingly beautiful autumn leaves have dropped. Leaves in the growing season are alternate, simple, ovate and up to 18 cm long and 10 cm wide. Autumn colours are quite breathtaking.
|Photos by @5imonapo Flickr|
Sexual Reproduction – The species is mainly dioecious, which means that each individual tree is either male or female. The pollen from the flowers on the male tree should be carried via insects (generally bees) to the flowers on the female tree for the fruit to set, however, many popular cultivars are parthenocarpic which means that they only produce female flowers and will set seedless fruit without pollination. When growing these cultivars there is no need to be concerned about the plant’s gender, however, they will benefit from (and in some cases will need) the pollen from another cultivar, so growing multiple cultivars is recommended. Female flowers are single and cream-coloured, while the male flowers are typically borne in clusters of threes, with a pink tinge to them. If growing trees from seed, it may take five years for your tree to bloom before you can clearly identify which gender your tree is.
|Diospyros kaki – Female flowers of a parthenocarpic cultivar in our garden|
|Image from https://www.hoosierweather.com/weather_lore.php|
Light Preferences – Persimmon prefers full sun, but can tolerate light shade. We have an excellent plant growing next to, and partially under, a Juglans regia – Persian Walnut in the garden of our crew house. You can see the two trees in the below image. The main trunk of Diospyros kaki – Japanese Persimmon is approx 5 m away from the main trunk of the Juglans regia – Persian Walnut, and both trees are thriving so far. We may need to lift the lower limbs of the Walnut in the future to make some space, but otherwise they both appear quite comfortable. More on this polyculture later.
Water needs – D.kaki can tolerate drought fairly well, but you will get the best fruits when the tree is properly irrigated during drier periods. Like most fruit trees, it’s very important that it receives enough water during the flowering period and during fruit swell. We sometimes can have periods of up to 12 weeks without rain and do not irrigate our tree, but our tree is mature with an established deep taproot that can harvest water from depth. Newly planted trees will certainly require more care and attention for the first 3 – 5 years.
Habitat and Biodiversity – The flowers are attractive to a range of pollinators, including honey bees and bumblebees, and the fruits provide a great source of winter food for birds. We always leave some on the tree as provision for the birds.
Hardiness – USDA 7 – 9 – D.kaki does best in areas that have moderate winters and relatively mild summers. We have an astringent variety in the garden of the crew house that must be at least 20 years old and survives our winters, experiencing extreme lows of -20 degrees C and producing well. The plant is located near the house and sheltered from the northerly winter winds, so this may be contributing to its success.
Where To Plant
Climatic Limitations – Persimmons have proved to be highly adaptable to a wide range of climate conditions, ranging from subtropical coastal regions to warm inland temperate areas, but it may not fruit in tropical lowlands due to lack of winter chill. The plant is considered suitable for all zones favourable to Citrus, but those zones with the coldest winters induce the highest yields. It is suited to semi-arid and high humidity atmosphere and can be grown at altitude 0- 2500 m. The plants are not very tolerant of the wind.
Soil – Persimmons have a reputation for being very easy to grow, tolerating many conditions. They do well in a wide range of soil types, but favour deep, well-drained loam soils with a good supply of organic matter. Heavy clay loam soils that are prone to water-logging should be avoided. Optimum tree growth is in the range of pH 6.0–7.5.
Location – The main thing to consider when choosing a spot for your tree is that it should receive a good amount of light, ideally 6-8 hours per day during the summer. Care should be taken to protect from strong winds. You should also consider the fact that you will need space to climb the tree to harvest the fruits. Different cultivars grow to different heights, so consider the height and spread of the Persimmon you want to grow, and make sure there is enough room for the tree to reach maturity.
Pollination/Fertilisation – Most Persimmon cultivars are female trees that can produce seedless fruits in the absence of male plants but as mentioned above it’s best to grow a few cultivars to encourage better yields. It is worth noting that sometimes inconsistencies occur and occasionally male flowers may arise on female trees, or perfect flowers may transpire containing male and female parts that self-pollinate. Generally speaking, two weeks after the leaves emerge from buds, flowers should appear. Bees are the main pollinators for Persimmon trees, and some native bees will successfully transport pollen between trees a hundred meters away.As a side note and testament to the resilience of these plants, following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, where all else was destroyed a D.kaki tree miraculously survived, albeit scorched and weak. Fifty years after the bombing, Mr. Masayuki Ebinuma, an arborist who lived in the area, treated the damaged tree, and it started to bear fruit. Mr. Ebinuma saved seeds from the fruits and carefully grew them and has started to hand them out as a symbol of peace. You can find more info on this wonderful project here. I’ve just applied for some seeds :)
Feeding, Irrigation and Care
Feeding – Most trees do well without feeding once established, but when planting out we always add 20 -30 L of compost to the soil surface and a thick layer of straw mulch atop the compost. It’s good to pull the mulch 10 -15 cm away from the trunk during the winter to keep moisture from accumulating next to the trunk and rotting the collar.
Planting – The optimum time to plant trees is in the autumn, as the roots have time to settle and the tree can put on growth more quickly come the springtime, but it is also perfectly acceptable to plant out in spring before the tree breaks dormancy. The best plants to use are bare rooted 2nd year on the graft trees that have only been transplanted once before. D.kaki has a long taproot which is sensitive, and care should be taken when transplanting, as any damage done can be slow to heal. When planting or transplanting don’t be alarmed if you notice that your tree has black roots – it is quite normal and doesn’t necessarily indicate that the health of the tree is compromised.
We have a range of excellent cultivars available from our Nursery that should start to fruit and flower 2 – 3 years after planting. We can deliver to anywhere in Europe from late November – early April. Click on the banner below for cultivar details and send us an email [email protected] to reserve your plants or place an order.
|Persimmon – Diospyros kaki for permaculture gardens/forest gardens/regenerative landscapes|
It’s worth mentioning here that newly transplanted young Persimmons may not leaf out until June in the first season after planting. Taking that further, while researching this blog post I came across a forum where some growers described their newly planted Persimmon trees remaining completely dormant the first year after planting, but leafing out without problem in the second year. On another occasion when planting out a Persimmon cultivar, we saw plenty of growth from the base of the plant, but nothing above the graft. After a while when the leaves developed on the new growth, I could see that the tree was grafted onto Diospyros virginiana – American persimmon, and the graft had not taken.
Weeding – Mulching plants with a 10 -20 cm deep layer each spring, and pulling weeds that start to grow through in the summer is good practice when the plants are young. As the trees mature, they grow well among other plants of all kinds and weeding is not necessary as a standard practice.
Pruning – Before pruning Persimmons, you should know that flower buds and fruit are borne in the autumn and will be ready to bloom during the following spring. Cutting back the tips of branches will, therefore, remove the flowering buds and consequently the fruit.
Persimmon trees are known for being generous and can bear fruit prolifically, but this can be too much of a good thing and cause the branches to break. Any broken branches should be removed to reduce the risk of infection. If a tree becomes too tall, picking fruit may become difficult and thinning out the taller limbs may be necessary.
Harvesting – The non-astringent cultivars produce fruits that can be eaten straight off the tree, but the astringent types should be picked to ripen inside at room temperature on a windowsill. When they soften they can be enjoyed by eating the pulp with a spoon, rather like eating yogurt from a pot. We harvest our astringent fruits in late autumn when the fruits are yellow-orange. When you gently press the side of the fruit and leave a dent, it is ready to eat. It should be so soft that picking it up risks rupturing the skin. If you are in a hurry to eat your heavenly parcels of goodness, I’ve read that placing the fruit into a paper bag along with an apple speeds up the ripening process. As I write, I am trying this method out in comparison with leaving some fruits on a windowsill.
Propagation – You can propagate from seed, but there is no telling what the fruit will be like so grafting is the most common method of propagation for these plants. You can use the seed to grow rootstocks, and if so it’s best to use fresh seed collected in the autumn and sow immediately outside or in a cold room. Germination usually takes between 2 – 3 weeks following 60 – 90 days of cold stratification.
Grafting should be conducted during the dormant period, before vegetative growth begins, on rootstocks with stems at least 1 cm in diameter. The scion wood should be about 12 cm long with 2 to 4 buds. Three rootstocks are generally used – D. kaki – most preferred and compatible with all cultivars, D.virginiana – Tolerant to drought and waterlogging and D.lotus that is incompatible with nonastringent cultivars.
As with most fruit trees, there is a very low success rate for hardwood and softwood cuttings.
Pests and Disease – Persimmons have few serious disease or pests – another favourable attribute – but listed here are two well-known causes of illness in Persimmons, neither of which I have personally experienced:
- Crown Gall – rounded growths or galls can develop on the Persimmon’s branches, caused by the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which enters the plant through wounds in roots or stems, and stimulates the plant tissues to grow in an distorted way. The roots also develop similar galls or tumors which harden. The risk of your tree becoming infected is minimised by pruning in the dormant season.
- Anthracnose – A fungal disease, thriving in wet conditions, and often appearing in spring targeting the vulnerable newly formed growth including twigs, leaves and fruits. Identifiable by tiny black spots that appear on the leaves and then develop into larger lesions. The tree may lose its leaves starting at the bottom branches. Clearing leaf fall and autumn debris, as well as pruning back, is thought to help control this condition as the fungus overwinters in the twigs and bark.
- Branch break can be a problem during years of bumper crops. As the fruits mature the excessive weight can snap out large limbs. This can be avoided by pruning out the smaller fruits when you see the tree is full of them. This can also help reduce the risk of receiving no fruit the following year.
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Dietary Fiber||3.6 g||9.5%|
|Vitamin C||7.5 mg||12.5%|
|Vitamin A||81 IU||3%|
|Vitamin E||0.73 mg||5%|
|Vitamin K||2.6 µg||2%|
Wood – Persimmon wood is very strong, but also has a very high shrinkage rate meaning it can move and be unsuitable for structural construction. It is used in woodturning, and used to be very popular in the production of golf heads when wooden clubs were used. Persimmon wood is used for paneling in traditional Korean and Japanese furniture. More specific information about the properties of Persimmon wood can be found at The Wood Database.
Erosion control: A potentially useful species for small scale erosion control due to its deep taproot. You would probably not use cultivars for this type of planting, but plants grown from seed may be worth trying.
Animal Fodder – The fruits are very nutritious and farm animals relish them, especially pigs, however, the leaves are not palatable and animals seldom eat them or damage newly planted specimens.
Leaves – Persimmon leaves are high in fibre, vitamin C, amino acids, magnesium, and contain tannins which can help digestion. While researching this blog I was surprised to learn that Persimmon leaves are sometimes used in Sushi dishes. More commonly, though. they are often used as a tea. The leaves can be steeped in boiling water in both fresh or dried forms, and are said to be good for metabolism.
Landscaping – Persimmon naturally adopts a dome or pyramidal behaviour, with a rather expanded crown and high ramification. This makes it is possible to train the tree to grow using techniques that align with this natural tendency. Vigorous and semi-dwarf cultivars are suitable for espalier specifically palmette training, if wire supports are provided, particularly in exposed situations. Such systems have the advantage of reducing wind damage to branches and fruit, and possibly encouraging earlier production and even higher yields.
Biodiversity – I’ve not looked too closely at the organisms attracted to Persimmon, but for sure bees and other pollinators feed on the flowers and nectar, while birds will feed on fruits left on the trees over winter. The crowns are quite open, and I’ve not seen any nesting going on in the trees. Flowers typically bloom in May making Persimmon a fairly late emerger in the spring. This means the tree offers pollen to bees at a time when most other fruit tree flowers have finished.
Hedging – I’ve not seen or tried these plants in a hedge, but I see no reason why some of the smaller cultivars would not be very suitable, so long as they are reasonably well protected from any prevailing winds. They take well to pruning, and have largish leaves that would provide an attractive screen from late spring to autumn.
Medicinal uses – D.kakihave high anti-oxidant activity, but this is variable and cultivar specific. Some astringent varieties show a very high antioxidant activity and may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and a wide range of cancers. They have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body which can only be a good thing as inflammation is one of the major factors in the development of more serious and chronic conditions. Here’s something worth knowing – Persimmon apparently appears to alter and reduce the rate of alcohol absorption and metabolism, and thus improve the symptoms of a hangover :) The fruit is used for a variety of medicinal purposes, that interestingly, depend upon its state of ripeness. For example, juice from the unripe fruit is said to be helpful in treating hypertension, while dried ripe fruit is used to help bronchial complaints.
D.kaki reaches peak production at 10 – 11 years, but can continue to be very productive for decades. Eight-year-old trees can be expected to yield 20 – 40 kg of fruit per tree, and a fully grown tree from 150-250 kg.
D.kaki has great potential for use in polycultures. The fact that they break out into leaf fairly late can be used as an advantage while planning a polyculture, and this along with the tree crown breaking quite high means there can be a shrub layer incorporated into the design. These features also offer a decent opportunity for spring greens to be grown in the herb layer.
They are a fairly slow-growing tree, which also means they can be interplanted for the first 12 years or so with annual crops, or other fruit and nut trees and shrubs.
We’ve been including Persimmon in more and more polycultures in our gardens, however I’m not yet convinced Diospryos kaki can handle the cold of our winters in the exposed areas of the garden, and we have lost a few plants over the years. The most promising demonstration of how these plants can be grown in a polyculture that I’ve seen is from two older trees – one in the garden of our crew house, and the other a fine specimen in our neighbour’s garden. We’re also trying Persimmon out in our polyculture orchard (see below).
Persimmon With Walnut And Fig
The Persimmon tree in the garden of the crew house grows quite happily next to a 20-year-old Juglans regia tree and shows no adverse effects from this. To the rear of the Persimmon is a mature Ficus carica which also appears to be flourishing. The below illustration shows the placement of these plants.
Persimmon in our Polyculture Orchard
Persimmon Cultivars — Hardy and Resistant to Major Pests and Diseases From Our Nursery.
|Persimmon – Diospyros kaki for permaculture and Forest Gardens|
We have a small selection of cultivars that are high yielding with an excellent taste, and virtually resistant to disease and pests. Our plants are 2nd year on the graft bare roots with an approximate height of 100 – 120cm (depending on cultivar). €15 per tree, with delivery available from late November – late March, to pretty much anywhere in Europe.
Disease Resistance: Good
Description: Non Astringent
Classification Of Persimmon Cultivars
If you are looking to grow persimmon commercially, or just love being nerdy, it’s well worth digging a little deeper on how the cultivars are classified.
Parfitt et al, 2015 have made the following classification system;
Pollination-Constant Non-Astringent (PCNA),
Pollination-Variant Non-Astringent (PVNA),
Pollination-Variant Astringent (PVA) and;
Pollination-Constant Astringent (PCA) taken from Parfitt et al, 2015
Astringent varieties such as Hachiya, Eureka and Honan Red can only be eaten when ripe because they contain water-soluble tannin in the flesh and are inedible until soft. When ripe they have almost a translucent quality to their colour, turning a deep, dark and dusky shade of orange when they are ready to eat. As the fruits tend to ripen at different times, the standard practice is to harvest all the fruit and allow them to ripen inside at room temperature. As a rule of thumb, the astringent cultivars are somewhat hardier and ripen more well in cooler climates than the non-astringent cultivars.
Non-astringent varieties such as Fuyu, Gosho and Imoto can be eaten when firm, as the tannin content is greatly reduced the moment the fruit turns from green to orange. Non-astringent cultivars have lost their astringency by maturity and can be eaten crisp like an apple or at various stages of softness. Non-astringent cultivars generally require a warmer climate and do not ripen in cooler areas.
Now in terms of the pollination aspect of the classification system, technically speaking it is actually the seeds, and the amount of ethanol in them and not the act of pollination itself, that influences the fruit. The simplest way to understand it is that the presence of seeds (through pollination) can change the colour of the fruit’s flesh thus altering its astringency status. Pollination constant cultivars retain their original flesh colour, while the flesh of pollination variant cultivars becomes darker when seeded.
To make things even more interesting, some Pollination Variant Varieties (by definition astringent when seedless) also include those that are astringent when they have several seeds, and partially or totally non-astringent when they have only one or a few seeds. Thankfully, most D.kaki will fruit without pollination (Parthenocarpic – setting seedless fruit without pollination), but if you are thinking about becoming a serious producer of Persimmon, it’s worth doing more research on this.
The shape of the fruit also varies with cultivars, ranging from spherical to acorn shaped, or even flattened. The colour of the fruit also varies from light yellow to blood orange-red. In all cultivars, the entire fruit is edible except the seed and the calyx.