All-American Tree Fruits
Scattered throughout the woodlands of North America are hidden treasures waiting to be discovered—pawpaws, mulberries, and persimmons. These tasty fruits grow on beautiful, native American trees that practically take care of themselves. What could be better for an organic garden?
Over the years, our American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) has received a bad rap, mostly due to the awful sensation that comes from eating the unripe fruits. But when ripe, the fruits actually have a rich, honeylike flavor and jellylike texture.
Native from Connecticut to Florida and west to Kansas, persimmon trees grow about 50 feet tall and look handsome in the home landscape. For home gardens in most regions, the best cultivars are ‘Early Golden’, ‘Florence’, ‘Garretson’, ‘Killen’, ‘Morris Burton’, and ‘Wabash’. If you live in the fruits’ northern range, however, choose an early-ripening variety, such as ‘Meader’, ‘John Rick’, or ‘Yates’.
Persimmons are attractive trees with large, leathery leaves that turn beautiful bright colors in the fall. The bright orange fruit often hangs on the branches long after the leaves drop. Persimmon fruit can be very astringent before the fruit is mushy-ripe, but some cultivars can be enjoyed while still firm.
Persimmon pollination can be a little tricky to understand. Sometimes the male trees produce female flowers and vice versa. The easiest way to get fruits is to plant a self-fertile female tree, such as ‘Garretson’ or ‘Meader’. To get fruit from the other varieties, you’ll need to plant both sexes, or graft a male branch onto a female tree.
Dig deeply when you plant or transplant—the persimmon tree has a long taproot. Potted trees can be transplanted at any time, but the best time to plant a bareroot tree is in spring. Be sure to water the plants throughout their first season. Persimmons produce a lot of root suckers. Discourage them by spreading a thick layer of organic mulch such as compost over the root zone. Remove suckers whenever you see them.
Persimmons are reasonably pest-free in the home garden. They can be troubled by scale and borers, and by persimmon psylla and citrus mealybug in the South.
Don’t harvest your persimmons until the fruits are fully colored and soft. The ripe fruits are delicious when eaten fresh, but they also make good pies, breads, cookies, and cakes. Before you use persimmons in a recipe, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of pulp to remove any remaining astringency.
Photo: Rodale Images