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Growing Asian Persimmon: Diospyros kaki

Botanical Overview

Persimmons are a genus of trees belonging to the Ebony family (Ebenaceae), best known for ebony and persimmons. The scientific name Diospyros translates as "divine fruit". Diospyros kaki: Asian Persimmon is the most widely cultivated and has thousands of cultivars.

Other persimmon species that are edible and have good flavor include Diospyros lotus: Date-Plum, known to the ancient Greeks (Southwest Asia and southeast Europe); Diospyros nigra: Black Sapote / Chocolate Pudding Fruit (Mexico); and Diospyros virginiana: American Persimmon (hardy in USDA zone 5-8).

Description

Form: Tree.
Lifespan: 30-50 productive years.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Slow the first two years, then moderate.
Mature Size: 25' high and at least as wide.
Flowers: Inconspicuous, fragrant. Male flowers occur in groups of three, female flowers occur singly. Usually male and female exist on separate trees but both can appear on the same tree, and rarely, perfect bisexual flowers appear.
Bloom: Early spring.
Self-fruitful: Many (female) cultivars will produce seedless fruit without pollination. Some will need pollination. Pollinated flowers may produce seeded fruit that is larger and different than unpollinated ones. A second cultivar nearby often increases the amount of (seeded) fruit.
Years before fruiting: 3-6.
Fruit: Spherical to oval, with an indented stem and four sepals. The skin is thin, waxy, and yellow to orange-red on the outside when ripe. The inside of the fruit is thick and pulpy, with a soft to fibrous texture. Seeded varieties may have up to 8 seeds.
Persimmon cultivars fall into three groups: astringent, non-astringent and pollination-variant (astringent when seedless). The immature fruit have a high tannin content with a very astringent taste. As they mature, non-astringent cultivars like 'Fuyu' lose the tannins and become sweet when fully colored and still hard. Astringent cultivars like 'Hachiya' do not lose the tannins when fully colored and become edible only after they change to a very soft, custard-like consistency.
Months for fruit to ripen: 6-8. Harvest the fruit when fully colored but still hard, to avoid bird predation. Use clippers to cut the stem just above the calyx (green leaf-like structure between the fruit and the stem). The fruit tend to persist on a tree for several months after ripening. They will continue to ripen after harvest, especially when placed in a bowl with apples or bananas. Fruit that are not fully colored will take much longer to ripen off the tree.
Storage after harvest: Several weeks at room temperature. The quickest method to remove astringency from astringent cultivars like 'Hachiya' is to place the fruit in a freezer for 24 hours. When thawed, the fruit are non-astringent. Otherwise, place them in a bowl and leave them for several weeks until they are very soft.
Some cultivars, such as 'Fuyu', suffer chill damage in refrigeration, but can be frozen or kept at 30-32°F, not above. Other cultivars, such as 'Hachiya', can be refrigerated for up to one month, encased individually in plastic bags. Do not expose to other ripening fruit in the refrigerator.
Persimmons can also be peeled and dried, whole or sliced, when hard. This will make even astringent varieties sweet and ready to eat.
Leaves: Medium to dark green, broadly lance-shaped, smooth margins, stiff.
Stems: No thorns.
Roots: Asian Persimmon is grafted onto Diospyros lotus or its own species, which has a deep tap root. Some cultivars may not be grafted. These rootstocks are not well suited to hot desert climates and the tree often does not survive its first two years in the ground.
Cultivars of note for hot climates:
'Fuyu-Jiro' has medium size fruit that are non-astringent and crunchy when ripe. It is a self-fruitful, hardy tree.
'Giant Fuyu' has larger fruit that are sweet, flavorful, non-astringent and crunchy when ripe. It is a self-fruitful, easy to grow tree.
'Hachiya' has large fruit that are sweet, flavorful, and astringent until they are ripe when very soft. It is a self-fruitful, vigorous tree.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees. The fruit attracts birds and mammals.
Toxic / Danger: No.
Origin: China.

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Cultivation and Uses

Overview: Asian Persimmons on their traditional rootstock are genetically marginal for hot desert regions. One successful grower states that he planted several bare root persimmons every year, expecting many of them to die and a few to live, until he had a small grove. After the first two years in the ground, those trees that survive seem well adapted and their rate of growth speeds up. After three years, they have attained sufficient root volume to need less attention.
USDA hardiness zones: 8-11 for 'Fuyu' and 'Hachiya'.
Chill hours: 200. If leaves emerge during an early spring warm spell, they can be killed at 26°F by a late frost.
Heat tolerant: This plant does better in temperatures below 90°F. A few cultivars can endure temperatures over 100°F but the tree must be mulched well, watered every two days, grown in enriched soil, and provided afternoon shade. High temperatures may reduce the size of the fruit crop.
Drought tolerant: Not above 90°F.
Sun: Full morning sun with afternoon shade.
Planting: Locate this tree where it will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. The soil must be pH neutral, well drained, and have high organic content.
Soil: Persimmons accept many soil types if they are well drained, with moderate to high organic content, soil pH 6.6-7.5 (neutral), and deeply dug if using D. kaki rootstock. These trees are not salt tolerant.
Fertilize: Do not fertilize unless leaves are not dark green or shoots grow less than one foot a year. Use an organic fertilizer, when necessary, in mid to late winter. Excess nitrogen causes fruit drop.
Water after becoming established: Every two days in high heat to once a month in cooler temperatures. Bubbler irrigation at the drip line, with an automatic timer is helpful. Increase water in the spring and taper off in the fall. Fruit drop occurs with insufficient water.
Mulch: Spread organic mulch under the canopy and 8" from the trunk to reduce moisture evaporation and lessen root area temperature extremes.
First Two Years' Care: Water every two days in high heat, at the drip line, to once a month in cooler temperatures. Provide full afternoon shade.
Prune: In early winter, prune to develop a strong structure. Flowers appear on the current season's branch growth. Fuyu fruit must be thinned to avoid branch breakage.
Litter: Leaves in fall. Messy fruit drop if not harvested.
Propagation: Cuttings grafted onto appropriate rootstock, seed.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental.

Comments

Other names are Japanese Persimmon, Kaki, Chinese Plum and if dried, Chinese fig. Persimmons are very popular in Asia but a minor fruit in North America. The bottom picture shows a seedless Fuyu sliced horizontally.


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Asian Persimmon: Diospyros kaki - flower

Asian Persimmon: Diospyros kaki - leaves

Asian Persimmon: Diospyros kaki - fruit

Asian Persimmon: Diospyros kaki - fruit sliced


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Latest update: May, 2020