Persimmon tree, Japanese persimmon
Most of us have seen Persimmons as imported fruits from the supermarket, but some species and varieties can also be cultivated here.
The Persimmon tree (Diospyros kaki) originally comes from Asia and belongs to the ebony family (Ebenaceae). It is also popularly known as Persimmon plum, even though it is not closely related to the plum. The literal translation of the botanical genus name is “fruit of the Gods”. The Persimmon tree has been cultivated as a fruit tree in China for over 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest cultivated plants.
Appearance and Growth
In favorable climates, the persimmon tree grows up to eight meters high. Because of its rounded crown it resembles an apple tree from a distance. The alternately arranged leaves are also have a similar shape, but are a bit larger, coarser and have a smoother, shiny surface. They turn yellow to orange-red in autumn. The bark of the trees is smooth and reddish brown. The female flowers have four large green sepals, which can even be spotted on the ripe fruit. In the wild varieties of the Persimmon are found as both bisexual (monoecious) and single-sex (dioecious) plants. The smooth-skinned fruits weigh up to 500 grams. They resemble a large tomato, but are light-colored.
Location and soil
The relatively robust American variety of Persimmons are also somewhat sensitive to frost in our latitudes and therefore need a location that is as warm as possible and protected from cold easterly winds. The Persimmon tree thrives best in this country in the wine-growing climate. The soil should be loamy, permeable and rich in humus and nutrients.
Planting and Care
Because the Persimmon plum is sensitive to frost, the location must be chosen carefully. A place in front of a warm, south-facing house wall or an inner courtyard are ideal. You should always plant Persimmons in spring so that the trees have a whole season to root until the first winter. It is best to fertilize in spring with two to three liters of compost per square meter on the tree disc. Water requirement is particularly high in summer when the fruit is ripe, otherwise the Persimmon tree can cope with brief period of drought.
Other fertilizers must be used with caution, as excess of fertilizers can impair frost resistance. It is very important to paint it white in fall, because the smooth, dark bark of the trees is highly susceptible to frost cracks. Young plants should also be protected in severe winters with a thick layer of leaves.
Breeding and pruning
Persimmon trees bloom on last year's wood. Regular fruit wood pruning is not necessary, but in young trees, similar to apple trees, pruning should be done in such a way that a pyramid-shaped crown with one central shoot and three to four side shoots forms so that the crown develops evenly. The pruning is best done in late winter after the heavy frosts have subsided. Long annual shoots are occasionally cut in half to stimulate branching.
Persimmon varieties for the garden usually have smaller fruits, but contain fewer tannins than commercially available varieties. One of the best in terms of taste is “Nikita’s Gift”; it bears 2.36 inches large, creamy, sweet fruits when fully ripe. The trees reach a height of around 9.84 feet and bear the first fruits as early as the second year of planting. They can even withstand temperatures down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. The American “Meader” variety bears somewhat smaller, flatter fruits.
Cultivars with large fruits originating from Israel are also known as Sharon fruits. Although they hardly contain any tannins, they are less winter hardy and can be grown in the Mediterranean region. Some regions in Spain and Italy have large Sharon plantations.
A few monoecious as well as dioecious fruit varieties are suitable for our latitudes. However, this does not play a major role in the yield, since all the persimmon fruit varieties grown today are parthenocarp - the female flowers produce fruits even without fertilization. The result is an empty core. In monoecious varieties, the flowers are partially fertilized, this is done by various insects. In any case, you only have to plant one Persimmon tree and under favorable conditions you can harvest up to 100 kilograms of fruit.
Harvesting and Use
Persimmon fruits are ripe for harvesting only after October, usually after the tree has already shed the leaves. Depending on the variety, the orange to carmine-red, fully colored fruits are picked preferably before the first frost. Ideally, they should remain on the tree till they are soft, otherwise you can put them in plastic bags with apples. They ripen at 53.6 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit in at the most in two weeks. Alternatively, you can put the fruits in the freezer for 24 hours.
Most varieties are only edible when they are fully ripe, because only then have the bitter substances broken down to such an extent that the very sweet, slightly pear-like and apricot-like aroma is discernible. The best way to eat ripe Persimmon is like Kiwis, by spooning the flesh out of the skin. The Sharon fruits have a thinner skin than the more frost-hardy varieties that we grow. They are usually eaten with skin on. Persimmons are also suitable for making jam or fruit puree and for juicing.
You can store the fruits in the cool cellar for a few weeks, but you should consume them promptly. Because of their high sugar content (up to 20 percent), Persimmons have a high nutritional value and are very rich in fiber. In addition to minerals and phytochemicals, they contain a lot of provitamin A and vitamin C. In Chinese medicine, fruits are said to have great healing properties: They are said to help against stomach and diarrheal diseases and are also known to lower blood pressure.
Like almost all fruit trees, the types of Persimmon fruit are also propagated by grafting.
Diseases and Pests
Persimmon trees are largely resistant to plant diseases and are only very rarely attacked by pests. Occasionally, an aphid infestation might occur in trees planted in the field. In Persimmon plums that are cultivated in a pot, scale insects and spider mites might occur.