Diospyros kaki Linn
Common Names: Persimmon, Oriental Persimmon, Japanese Persimmon, Kaki.
Related species: Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna), Mabolo, Velvet Apple (D. discolor), Date Plum (D. lotus), Texas Persimmon (D. texana), American Persimmon (D. virginiana).
Origin: The oriental persimmon is native to China, where it has been cultivated for centuries and more than two thousand different cultivars exist. It spread to Korea and Japan many years ago where additional cultivars were developed. The plant was introduced to California in the mid 1800’s.
Adaptation: Persimmons do best in areas that have moderate winters and relatively mild summers–suitable for growing in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 to 10. It can tolerate temperatures of 0° F when fully dormant. However, because of its low chilling requirement (less than 100 hours), it may break dormancy during early warm spells only to be damaged by spring frosts later. The leaves are killed by 26° F when growing. Trees do not produce well in the high summer heat of desert regions, which may also sunburn the bark.
Growth Habit: The persimmon is a multitrunked or single-stemmed deciduous tree to 25 ft. high and at least as wide. It is a handsome ornamental with drooping leaves and branches that give it a languid, rather tropical appearance. The branches are somewhat brittle and can be damaged in high winds.
Foliage: Persimmon leaves are alternate, simple, ovate and up to 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. They are often pale, slightly yellowish green in youth, turning a dark, glossy green as they age. Under mild autumn conditions the leaves often turn dramatic shades of yellow, orange and red. Tea can also be made from fresh or dried leaves.
Flowers: The inconspicuous flowers surrounded by a green calyx tube are borne in the leaf axils of new growth from one-year old wood. Female flowers are single and cream-colored while the pink-tinged male flowers are typically borne in threes. Commonly, 1 to 5 flowers per twig emerge as the new growth extends (typically March). Persimmon trees are usually either male or female, but some trees have both male and female flowers. On male plants, especially, occasional perfect (bisexual) flowers occur, producing an atypical fruit. A tree’s sexual expression can vary from one year to the other. Many cultivars are parthenocarpic (setting seedless fruit without pollination), although some climates require pollination for adequate production. When plants not needing pollination are pollinated, they will produce fruits with seeds and may be larger and have a different flavor and texture than do their seedless counterparts.
Fruit: Persimmons can be classified into two general categories: those that bear astringent fruit until they are soft ripe and those that bear nonastringent fruits. Within each of these categories, there are cultivars whose fruits are influenced by pollination (pollination variant) and cultivars whose fruits are unaffected by pollination (pollination constant). Actually, it is the seeds, not pollination per se, that influences the fruit. An astringent cultivar must be jelly soft before it is fit to eat, and such cultivars are best adapted to cooler regions where persimmons can be grown. The flesh color of pollination-constant astringent cultivars is not influenced by pollination. Pollination-variant astringent cultivars have dark flesh around the seeds when pollinated. A nonastringent persimmon can be eaten when it is crisp as an apple. These cultivars need hot summers, and the fruit might retain some astringency when grown in cooler regions. Pollination-constant nonastringent (PCNA) persimmons are always edible when still firm; pollination-variant nonastringent (PVNA) fruit are edible when firm only if they have been pollinated.
The shape of the fruit varies by cultivar from spherical to acorn to flattened or squarish. The color of the fruit varies from light yellow-orange to dark orange-red. The size can be as little as a few ounces to more than a pound. The entire fruit is edible except for the seed and calyx. Alternate bearing is common. This can be partially overcome by thinning the fruit or moderately pruning after a light-crop year. Astringency can also be removed by treating with carbon dioxide or alcohol. Freezing the fruit overnight and then thawing softens the fruit and also removes the astringency. Unharvested fruit remaining on the tree after leaf fall creates a very decorative effect. It is common for many immature fruit to drop from May to September
Location: Full sun with some air movement is recommended for persimmon trees in inland areas, although they will tolerate some partial shade. Persimmons grown in cooler areas should have full sun with protection from cooling breezes. As an attractive ornamental the tree fits well in the landscape. It does not compete well with eucalyptus.
Soil: Persimmons can withstand a wide rage of conditions as long as the soil is not overly salty, but does best in deep, well drained loam. A pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 is preferred. The tree has a strong tap root which may mean digging a deeper hole than usual when planting (when on D. kaki stock).
Irrigation: Persimmon trees will withstand short periods of drought, but the fruit will be larger and of higher quality with regular watering. Extreme drought will cause the leaves and fruit to drop prematurely. Any fruit left on the tree will probably sunburn. Some 36 to 48 inches of water are needed annually, applied gradually in spring and tapering off in the fall. Hot inland areas may require 2 or 3 applications weekly, while coastal areas may need watering only once every 6 weeks, depending on the soil. If a drip system is is used, the emitters should be moved away from the trunk as the tree matures.
Fertilization: Most trees do well with a minimum of fertilizing. Excess nitrogen can cause fruit drop. If mature leaves are not deep green and shoot growth is less than a foot per year, apply a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 at a rate of l pound per inch of trunk diameter at ground level. Spread the fertilizer evenly under the canopy in late winter or early spring.
Pruning: Prune persimmon trees to develop a strong framework of main branches while the tree is young. Otherwise the fruit, which is borne at the tips of the branches, may be too heavy and cause breakage. A regular program of removal of some new growth and heading others each year will improve structure and reduce alternate bearing. An open vase system is probably best. Even though the trees grow well on their own, persimmons can be pruned heavily as a hedge, as a screen, or to control size. They even make a nice espalier. Cut young trees back to 1/2 high (or about 3 feet) at the time of planting.
Propagation: Stratification is recommended for all persimmon seeds. The common rootstock in California is D. lotus, although it is not compatible with some cultivars, including fuyu. Other rootstock such as D. kaki seedlings are temperamental and have long tap roots. D. virginiana is inconsistent and suckers badly. Whip and cleft grafts are the ones commonly used. The trunks of young trees should be protected from sunburn and rodent damage.
Pests and Diseases: Persimmons are relatively problem-free, although mealybug and scale in association with ants can sometimes cause problems. Ant control will usually take care of these pests. Other occasional pests include white flies, thrips which can cause skin blemishes and a mite that is blamed for the “brown lace collar” near the calyx. Waterlogging can also cause root rot. Vertebrate pests such as squirrels, deer, coyotes, rats, opossums and birds are fond of the fruit and gophers will attack the roots. Other problems include blossom and young fruit shedding, especially on young trees. This is not usually a serious problem, but if the drop is excessive, it may be useful to try girdling a few branches. Over watering or over fertilization may also be responsible. Large quantities of small fruit on an otherwise healthy tree can be remedied by removing all but one or two fruit per twig in May or June.
Harvest: Harvest astringent varieties when they are hard but fully colored. They will soften on the tree and improve in quality, but you will probably lose many fruit to the birds. Astringent persimmons will ripen off the tree if stored at room temperature. Nonastringent persimmons are ready to harvest when they are fully colored, but for best flavor, allow them to soften slightly after harvest. Both kinds of persimmons should be cut from the tree with hand-held pruning shears, leaving the calyx intact Unless the fruit is to be used for drying whole, the stems should be cut as close to the fruit as possible. Even though the fruit is relatively hard when harvested, it will bruise easily, so handle with care.
Mature, hard astringent persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a month. They can also be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Nonastringent persimmons can be stored for a short period at room temperature. They will soften if kept with other fruit in the refrigerator. Persimmons also make an excellent dried fruit. They can either be peeled and dried whole or cut into slices (peeled or unpeeled) and dried that way. When firm astringent persimmons are peeled and dried whole they lose all their astringency and develop a sweet, datelike consistency.
Commercial Potential: Persimmons are found in most supermarkets during the season, but there is not a large demand outside ethnic markets. It would appear that there is a potential as a major crop if and when the market is developed.
There has been a great deal of confusion and misidentification among persimmon cultivars. The following list is subject to revision as better analysis techniques become available.
- Medium to large oblate fruit, puckered at the calyx. Skin bright orange-red. Good quality. Ripens late. Tree small, vigorous,drought and frost resistant, precocious and heavy-bearing. One of the most satisfactory cultivars for Florida and Texas
- Large, oblong-conical fruit Skin glossy, deep orange. Flesh dark yellow. Sweet and rich. Good for drying. Ripens midseason to late. Tree vigorous, upright-spreading. Prolific in California.
- Honan Red
- Small, roundish oblate fruit with thin skin. Skin and flesh ripen to a distinct orange-red. Very sweet and rich. Excellent for fresh eating and drying. Ripens midseason to late. Tall, upright, moderately vigorous tree. Bears good crop.
- Small, elongated fruit. Skin dull-yellow when mature. Flavor sweet, excellent, ranked among the best by gourmets. Mature fruits are attractive when dried. Tree medium in height, bears consistently. Cold hardy to -10° F.
- Large, somewhat four-sided fruit, broad-oblate and indented around the middle. Skin thick, orange-red. Flesh light orange, sweet and rich when fully ripe. Ripens midseason in California
- Medium-sized round-conical fruits. Skin light yellow or orange, turning orange-red, thick. Flesh yellow, sweet. Ripens early. Tree vigorous, rounded, prolific. In California tends to bear in alternate years.
- Sold as Sharon Fruit after astringency has been chemically removed. Medium-sized, oblate fruits. Ripens in October.
- Fuyu (Fuyugaki)
- Medium-large oblate fruit, faintly four-sided. Skin deep orange. Flesh light orange, sweet and mild. Ripens late. Keeps well and is an excellent packer and shipper. Tree vigorous, spreading, productive. Most popular nonastringent cultivar in Japan.
- Gosho/Giant Fuyu/O’Gosho
- Large, roundish-oblate fruit. Skin reddish orange, attractive. When fully ripe has one of the deepest red colors of any persimmon. Flesh quality good, sweeter than Fuyu. Ripens in late October. Tree somewhat dwarf. Bears regularly but sets a light crop in some seasons and is prone to premature shedding of fruit.
- Similar to Jiro. Reddish brown skin. Occasional male flowers and seeds. Probably a bud mutation of Jiro. Ripens late October and early November
- Medium-sized fruit. Skin burnt orange. Flesh soft, with a good amount of syrup, of fine texture. Flavor very good. Not reliably nonastringent. Ripens early, from the end of September to mid-October. Tree somewhat dwarf. Bears only female flowers. Sets good crop.
- Fruit large. Resembles Fuyu, but more truncated and squarish in cross-section. Skin orange-red. Flavor and quality excellent. Ripens late October and early November, ships well. Often sold as Fuyu. Tree slightly upright. Most popular nonastringent variety in California.
- Medium-sized, rounded fruit, smoother and less indented than Jiro. Rich orange in color. Sweet and of good quality. Ripens in mid-season. Tree slightly upright. Must be planted with a suitable pollinator to ensure good fruit yield. Bud mutation of Jiro.
- Medium-sized, round fruit. Skin orange to deep red. Flesh sweet, of good texture, flavor good. Not reliably nonastringent. Ripens in early November. Tree medium-sized, vigorous, spreading. Differentiates male flowers, making it a suitable pollinator.
- Large fruit. Skin orange-red. Flesh dense, very sweet, excellent quality. Difficult to soften on tree (fruit becomes spongy rather than soft). Ripens in November, keeps well Tree almost free from alternate bearing. Recommended for warmer climates.
Pollination Variant Varieties (astringent when seedless)
- Small to medium-sized, oblong-conical fruit. Skin reddish orange. Flesh brown-streaked when pollinated, must be soft-ripe before eating. Ripens late October to early November. Tree large, vigorous, producing many male blossoms. Recommended as a pollinator for pollination variant cultivars such as Hyakuma and Zenji Maru.
- Fruit small, roundish to conical with a rounded apex. Skin dull red, pebbled. Flesh dark, firm, juicy, of fair flavor. Tree small to medium. Bears many male flowers regularly and is an excellent cultivar to plant for cross-pollination. Has attractive autumn foliage and ornamental value.
- Fruit large, roundish oblong to roundish oblate. Skin buff-yellow to light orange, marked with rings and veins near the apex. Flesh dark cinnamon when seeded, juicy, of firm texture, nonmelting. Flavor spicy, very good. Nonastringent even while the fruit is still hard. Ripens in midseason, stores and ships well.
- Small to medium-sized fruit, rounded at the apex. Skin brilliant orange-red, attractive. Flesh dark cinnamon, juicy, sweet and rich, quality excellent. Stores and ships especially well. Tree vigorous and productive. Generally considered a group name.
- Nishimura Wase
- Fruit medium, round conical to oblate. Orange color. Mediocre flavor. Ripens in September. Bears male flowers.
- Bathgate, et al. Fuyu Primer: Collection of Published Articles, California Fuyu Growers Association, P.O. Box 1301, Valley Center, CA 92082. 1991.
- Griffith, E. and M. W. Griffith. Persimmons for Everyone. NAFEX, 1982.
- Kitagawa, H. and P. Glucina. Persimmon Culture in New Zealand. DSIR Series no. 159. Science Information Publishing Center. Science Information Publishing Center, Wellington, N.Z., 1984
- LaRue, James H., et al. Growing Persimmons. University of California, Leaflet 21277. 1982.
- Ortho Books. All About Citrus and Subtropical Fruits. Chevron Chemical Co. 1985. pp. 68-70.
- Reich, Lee. Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1991. pp. 75-94.
- Ryuago, K., et al. Persimmons for California. California Agriculture Magazine, July-August 1988.