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Persimmons

When it comes to choosing landscape trees, I look for trees that have multi-season interest.  I’ve seen too many fleeting beauties that bear a fireworks display of flowers in the spring that lasts for a week or two, and then they disappear into the landscape.

I like trees that make you look twice. Spring flowers, lustrous green leaves in summer, and yellowish to reddish-purple leaves in the fall. When the leaves drop, brilliantly colored edible fruits hang from the limbs like Christmas ornaments. Then in winter, the thick, nearly black bark cut into neat squares looks like the back of an alligator.

I’m writing about persimmons. You’re probably familiar with our native American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that can reach a height of 35 to 60 feet with a spread up to 35 feet. It’s often found in abandoned fields, along highways, pastures, and roadside ditches. It’s prone to suckering wildly, so if you have one, chances are you’ll have a grove in a short time.

American persimmons produce female and male flowers on separate trees, which means that in order to enjoy the bright orange fruit, you have to have a female tree whose flowers are pollinated and fertilized by the pollen of a male flowering tree. The fruit is very small, less than one to two inches wide, seedy, and astringent until it is fully ripe. Three American persimmon cultivars recommended in the Persimmon fact sheet, Early Golden, Garretson, and Killen, usually have female or pistillate flowers; however, some branchlets may contain male or staminate flowers that results in fruit set.

American persimmons tend to be smaller and seedier than their Japanese counterparts. R. F. Polomski, ©2021, Clemson Extension

American persimmons tend to be smaller and seedier than their Japanese counterparts.
R. F. Polomski, ©2021, Clemson Extension

I’m especially fond of the Japanese or kaki persimmons (Disopyros kaki). You only need one Japanese persimmon to enjoy the “food of the gods,” a translation of the Latin genus, Diospyros, because cross-pollination with a separate tree is unnecessary. Japanese persimmon can produce male, female, and even perfect flowers that contain male and female reproductive structures in the same floral structure.

Oriental persimmon fruit may reach the size of a peach. Photo credit: David Ouellette

Oriental persimmon fruit may reach the size of a peach.
Photo credit: David Ouellette

There’s nothing better than going out to the garden in early morning and eating the chilly, juicy, and flavorful fruits. Depending on the cultivar, fruit may range in size from a half dollar to a small grapefruit and in color from yellow to deep orange-red.

Native and Asian persimmons are attractive throughout the year but most delectable this month.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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