American Persimmon Tree Facts – Tips On Growing American Persimmons

American Persimmon Tree Facts – Tips On Growing American Persimmons

By: Teo Spengler

The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is an attractive native tree that requires very little maintenance when planted in appropriate sites. It’s not grown commercially as much as the Asian persimmon, but this native tree produces fruit with a richer taste. If you enjoy persimmon fruit, you may want to consider growing American persimmons. Read on for American persimmon tree facts and tips to get you started.

American Persimmon Tree Facts

American persimmon trees, also called common persimmon trees, are easy to grow, moderate sized trees that reach about 20 feet (6 m.) tall in the wild. They can be grown in many regions and are hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 5.

One of the uses for American persimmons is as ornamental trees, given their colorful fruit and intensely green, leathery leaves that purple in the fall. However, most American persimmon cultivation is for the fruit.

The persimmons you see in grocery stores are usually Asian persimmons. American persimmon tree facts tell you that the fruit from the native tree is smaller than Asian persimmons, only 2 inches (5 cm.) in diameter. The fruit, also called persimmon, has a bitter, astringent flavor before it ripens. Ripe fruit is a golden orange or red color, and very sweet.

You can find a hundred uses for the persimmon fruit, including eating them right off the trees. The pulp makes good persimmon baked products, or it can be dried.

American Persimmon Cultivation

If you want to start growing American persimmons, you need to know that the species tree is dioecious. That means that a tree produces either male or female flowers, and you’ll need another variety in the area to get the tree to fruit.

However, several cultivars of American persimmon trees are self-fruitful. That means that one lone tree can produce fruit, and the fruits are seedless. One self-fruitful cultivar to try is ‘Meader.’

To succeed in growing American persimmon trees for fruit, you’ll do best to select a site with well-draining soil. These trees thrive on loamy, moist soil in an area that gets ample sun. The trees do tolerate poor soil, however, and even hot, dry soil.

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Persimmons

The persimmon is one of the most widely grown "exotic" fruits. But why exotic? Perhaps it's the Latin name, Diospyros, which literally translates as "food of the gods." What could be more exotic to any mortal than to sit at the table of the gods? Or perhaps it's because enjoying a ripe persimmon makes one feel graced as a god. Either way, the combination of brilliant orange color, succulent texture and intense flavor make for an unforgettable culinary experience.

In a more practical vein, the tree is graceful and beautiful all four seasons of the year. It is slow-growing, round-shaped and 15 to 20 feet tall. Smooth, lustrous dark green leaves turn a blaze of orange and red in fall. Branches tend to weep from the heavy fruit load -- be prepared to lend some support with a 2-by-4s. Once leaves drop, the colorful fruits hang more gloriously on the bare branches than any shiny globe on a Christmas tree. Since persimmons have few serious pest and disease problems, this underutilized tree is a prize to grow in any gardener's backyard.

The fruits are the biggest treat in growing persimmons. They range from the size of a half dollar to a small grapefruit, with colors from yellow to deep orange-red.

The Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki) has been widely and wildly popular in Asia for centuries. In the United States, it grows anywhere south of USDA Zone 7 or anywhere the winter minimum temperature stays above 0°F. Asian persimmons are grown commercially in California and Florida and to a lesser extent in southeastern Texas.

The hardier American persimmon (D. virginiana) grows as far north as zone 5, or where winter minimum temperatures are -20° or higher. It is a larger and faster-growing tree, but produces smaller (11/2 inches in diameter), richer-tasting fruits than its Asian cousin.

Astringent or nonastringent? These are important terms in the lexicon of persimmon aficionados. Asian varieties may be either, while American varieties are only astringent. Astringent varieties contain alum, which makes your mouth pucker when the fruits are eaten before they're fully ripe. Eat astringent persimmons only after they turn soft and mushy and have developed full color. Nonastringent persimmons can be eaten while they are still hard, like an apple, or after they soften. Both astringent and nonastringent fruits are versatile in cooking use them fresh in salads and puddings or dry them.

You can plant a persimmon tree in early spring or in fall, depending on your climate. Most mail-order trees are bare root, harvested December or January and shipped December through March. Plant these as soon as you receive them. Since bare-root trees shock easily when transplanted, it's important to keep the roots moist. Transplanting containerized plants is usually more successful.

Both Asian and American persimmons grow best in well-drained and slightly acidic soil. Locate trees in full sun and space them 20 to 25 feet apart or 12 feet from a structure. American persimmons will tolerate a little shade and a wider variety of soil types than their Asian relatives. Roots are slow growing, so keep the tree well watered all season. A typical tree should begin bearing regular crops of persimmons at three to five years of age.

If new growth reaches about one foot a year, the trees have sufficient fertilizer. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, will cause fruit drop. An annual application of 5 to 10 pounds of compost per tree in late winter will keep persimmons growing well.

Persimmon trees are mostly dioecious, meaning individual trees produce either male or female flowers. This means you'll need a separate male pollinator tree for the female tree to produce a crop. Although persimmons can produce fruit parthenocarpically (without pollination), Asian persimmons are less likely to drop fruit and tend to produce larger and more fruit when pollinated. 'Galley' and 'Gosho' are good Asian male pollinator varieties.

If you're growing American varieties, it's also best to have a male pollinator variety. 'Meader' is one of the few American varieties that is known to be self-fruitful, but even its fruits will do better if planted with a male pollinator such as American Male. Asian varieties will not pollinate American varieties, and vice versa.

Prune young trees in winter to a modified central leader system with six to eight widely spaced scaffold branches around the trunk to support future fruit loads. American persimmons tend to sucker heavily, so plan to cut suckers away every year. Once persimmons reach bearing age, little pruning is necessary. Thin fruits to one to two fruits per shoot, choosing the ones with the largest calyx.

Persimmons are ready to harvest from September to December, depending on the variety. Asian fruits hold tightly to the branches, so you may need pruners to remove them.

Harvest nonastringent varieties, such as 'Fuyu', when they're still firm but have full color. Harvest astringent Asian varieties when the skin of the fruit turns translucent and the calyx readily separates. Or leave either kind on the tree to ripen into the winter as long as temperatures don't get below the mid-20s. American persimmons drop off the tree when ripe.

If raccoons, opossums or birds begin to eat the ripening fruit first, pick the astringent varieties when they're just beginning to soften and place them in a plastic bag with a few bananas for 7 to 10 days in a warm room. The ethylene gas given off by the bananas will ripen the persimmons.

22 Kinds of Persimmons

Nonastringent Persimmons: Edible when either hard- or soft-ripe

Fuyu
Size and shape: Medium-large tomato-shaped
Ripening time: Mid- to late
Flavor, color and more: Reddish orange fruits with sweet, crisp, mild-tasting flesh can hold on trees for up to two months. The most popular nonastringent variety, but hardy to only 15° F.

Hana-Fuyu
Size and shape: Very large round
Ripening time: Midseason
Flavor, color and more: Reddish, juicy fruits with sweet, dark orange flesh on a dwarf tree.

Hana-Gosho
Size and shape: Large flattened
Ripening time: Midseason
Flavor, color and more: Orange fruits with sweet, crisp flesh with streaks of cinnamon brown. Large tree.

Ichi Ki Kei Jiro
Size and shape: Large flattened
Ripening time: Early
Flavor, color and more: Orange, sweet fruits mature earlier than 'Jiro' on a dwarf tree. Hardy to 0° F.

Izu
Size and shape:Medium-large round
Ripening time: Early
Flavor, color and more: Orange-red fruits with sweet, pale orange flesh. Earliest ripening of nonastringent types. Recommended for the Gulf Coast. Dwarf tree.

Jiro
Size and shape: Large round
Ripening time: Midseason
Flavor, color and more: Orange fruits are sweet and mild tasting. Similar to 'Fuyu' but has larger, flatter fruits. Hardy to 0° F.

Suruga
Size and shape: Large round
Ripening time: Late
Flavor, color and more: Red fruits with sweet flesh. Late ripening. Recommended for the Gulf Coast.

Astringent Persimmons: Edible when soft-ripe

Eureka
Size and shape: Medium tomato-shaped
Ripening time: Midseason
Flavor, color and more: Reddish orange fruits with firm, light yellow flesh. A prolific, heavy bearer that starts bearing early (in the third year). Recommended for the Southeast.

Giombo
Size and shape: Large conical
Ripening time: Midseason
Flavor, color and more: Yellowish orange fruits up to one pound, less sweet than 'Saijo'.

Great Wall
Size and shape: Small flattened
Ripening time: Early
Flavor, color and more: Orange fruits with sweet flesh. Hardy to 0° F.

Hachiya
Size and shape: Large conical-acorn
Ripening time: Early
Flavor, color and more: Orange-red fruits with sweet, smooth-textured flesh. The standard commercial variety in California. Fruits drop if tree is stressed or excess nitrogen applied, but store well.

Hardy Russian
Size and shape: Small pointed base
Ripening time: Very early
Flavor, color and more: Golden fruits have soft, melting flesh when fully ripe. The most cold-hardy Asian variety, to -15° F.

Hira-Tanenashi
Size and shape: Medium flattened
Ripening time: Midseason
Flavor, color and more: Fruits are similar to 'Hachiya' but very slow to lose astringency. Popular in Japan. Thick skin, tends to be seedless.

Korean
Size and shape: Medium flattened
Ripening time: Midseason
Flavor, color and more: A productive bearer with orange fruits. More cold-hardy than most Asian varieties, to -10° F.

Saijo
Size and shape: Medium egg-shaped
Ripening time: Early
Flavor, color and more: Yellowish orange fruits with sweet, orangish, mostly seedless flesh. Excellent flavor. Skin resists cracking. Dries and stores well.

Sheng
Size and shape: Large flattened and ribbed
Ripening time: Late
Flavor, color and more: Sweet, orange fruits dry well. Trees are similar to 'Hana-Gosho' but more dwarf.

Tamopan
Size and shape: Medium-large round with turban-like ridge
Ripening time: Late
Flavor, color and more: Reddish orange fruits with light yellow, sweet, juicy, slightly stringy flesh and thick skin. Large tree.

Tanenashi
Size and shape: Large heart-shaped
Ripening time: Mid- to late
Flavor, color and more: Light reddish orange fruits with pulpy yellow flesh. Good for drying. Small tree. Drops fruits easily if stressed.

Early Golden
Size and shape: Medium round
Ripening time: Early to midseason
Flavor, color and more: Yellowish orange, sweet fruits. Usually seeded. Self-fruitful, but more productive with pollinator variety. Larger tree than Asian varieties. Most widely planted American persimmon. Hardy to -25° F.

Garretson
Size and shape: Small to medium round
Ripening time: Early
Flavor, color and more: Seedling of 'Early Golden' with similar characteristics but ripens earlier and requires pollinator variety to set fruit.

John Rick
Size and shape: Very large round
Ripening time: Late
Flavor, color and more: Orange fruit and red, pulpy flesh used for canning. Productive, early and hardy to -25°F. Needs a pollinator variety.

Meader
Size and shape: Medium round
Ripening time: Early
Flavor, color and more: Orange, sweet fruits tend to be seedless. The hardiest persimmon, to -30° F. Self-fruitful, but does best with a pollinator.

Charlie Nardozzi is a senior horticulturist at the National Gardening Association.

Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.

Growing Persimmon Trees

While many persimmon cultivars require no cross pollination, wild persimmons need the opposite gender to produce fruit. The fruit itself persists on the branches until ripened by the first frost and will drop off the tree entirely once ripe.

The American persimmons have a very short window for harvesting often only a week or two.

The American persimmons are hardier with a wider growing range of zones 4-10 as compared to other persimmon varieties, many of which are are restricted to grow zones 7-10. More nurseries and garden centers are selling all varieties of persimmon trees these days, so check with your local nursery or online.

We have Fuyu persimmon trees and love this sturdy sweet fruit! However, we also have wild persimmons growing on our property in two different locations and enjoy these as well, though we often leave the American persimmon fruit for the wildlife. Since we have the Fuyus and the American persimmons are smaller, harder to harvest at perfect timing, plus have small amounts of fruit as compared to the size of the fruit and the several substantial seeds in each fruit.

Growing American Persimmon Trees

  • Propagate from seeds, cuttings, suckers, and grafts
  • 3-5 years to harvest
  • Slow growing, mature maximum size range 68-78 feet
    • fruit by 10th year
    • best fruit production after 25-50 years
  • USDA Growing zones 4-10
  • Well drained, loamy soil
  • Drought tolerant once mature, due to deep taproot
  • Prefer full to mostly sunny locations
  • Moderately sized tree, but can mature up to 60 feet tall
  • Generally pest resistant
  • Hard to transplant – long brittle tap root*
  • Late blooming – Good for pollinators

*The long taproot that helps the American persimmon be hardy and drought resistant, also makes it hard to transplant. [2] https://uncommonfruit.cias.wisc.edu/american-persimmon/

The wood from persimmon trees is beautiful and very dense, in keeping with ebony genus, and is sometimes called “white ebony”. [3] https://www.wood-database.com/persimmon/

PERSIMMON TREE – GENERAL USES

  • Deep taproot is helpful in erosion control
  • Flowers – attractive to pollinators produce nectar for honey production
  • Wood – functional and medicinal
  • Seeds – dried and roasted ground seeds used as coffee substitute
  • Fruits – edible and medicinal
  • Wildlife – survival, attraction and to be aware of competitors for your fruit:
    • leaves and twigs are eaten in fall and winter by white-tailed deer
    • the fruit is eaten by:
      • squirrels
      • fox
      • skunk
      • deer
      • bear
      • coyote
      • raccoon
      • opossum
      • birds, including:
        • wild turkey
        • cedar waxwing
        • catbird

PERSIMMON WOOD USES

  • Golf club driver heads or “woods”
  • Billiard cues
  • Drumsticks
  • Longbows
  • Textile shuttles
  • Heartwood is used for veneer and specialty items
  • Sapwood – most often commercially used persimmon tree wood

PERSIMMON TREE MEDICINAL USES

  • Sap / syrup has been used for:
    • coughs
  • Fruits have been used for:
    • fever
    • diarrhea
    • hemorrhaging
    • nausea
    • parasites (anthelmintic)
    • anti-inflammatory
  • Fruits applied externally for:
    • abscesses
    • infected wounds
  • Roasted fruit rind for:
    • diuretic
    • leucorrhoea (vaginal discharge)

For more extensive information on medicinal uses of the American wild persimmon – Diospyrus Virginiana.

  • https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_divi5.pdf

American persimmons can adapt, but grow best in sunny areas and well drained, loamy soil in zones 5-10.

In Pursuit of Persimmons

For an excellent overview of the wild, cultivated, and imported persimmons, we recommend you download a free PDF from the National Center for Appropriate Technology. 3

If you are wondering where persimmons and other forage sources are situated in your area, check out this unique interactive mapping site. The site also allows folks to enter plants and their locations with a pin feature. It’s a cool idea though not sure how accurate it is.

We’ve also discovered wild persimmon trees on our two properties as well as in neighboring yard in our neighborhood.


Flowering and Pollination Requirements

Native persimmons are usually dioecious that is, trees produce either male or female flowers. Only rarely are native persimmons self-pollinating. Thus, both female and male trees are usually necessary to produce a full crop.

In oriental persimmons, female, male and/or perfect flowers can be produced on the same tree. In addition, many oriental persimmons can produce fruit from unfertilized flowers (parthenocarpic fruit), though such fruit have no seed. The oriental persimmon varieties Ichikikei Jiro, Tamopan, Tanenashi and Hachiya produce quality fruit without pollination. Although fruit can be produced without pollination, heavier and more consistent crops usually result from pollination. Parthenocarpic fruit are much more prone to drop during the growing season.

Oriental persimmons can be pollinated by Fuyu or Gailey oriental varieties. Native persimmons will not cross-pollinate with oriental persimmons.


Persimmon Fruit Astringency

American persimmon varieties are astringent, meaning that due to high tannin levels fruits need to be fully soft and ripe before eating. Asian persimmons are either astringent or non-astringent non-astringent varieties such as Fuyu are often preferred. Fruits of non-astringent types can be eaten while quite firm and crisp, like apples. According to Just Fruits and Exotics, once fully ripened astringent varieties are "sweeter, richer and juicier," while the non-astringent types are crisp and mellow with flavor like sugarcane or cantaloupe.


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The American Persimmon tree is capable of growing up to 60' tall, often developing a symmetrical, rounded crown. American Persimmon fruit trees will need a pollinator as the trees are considered either male or female. It produces a large crop of edible fruit but also produces valuable timber and is great for bees and therefore for honey production. In the fall when fully ripe, the fruit of the American Persimmon tree has a soft smooth, jelly-like texture and a honey-like sweetness. In addition to its fruit-bearing potential, American Persimmon trees can make an attractive mid-size yard tree. The large drooping leaves give it a soft look, and the dark checkered bark of mature trees provides winter interest. Native Americans loved them, and they are a popular food for wild turkey, mockingbirds, deer, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, and other wildlife. A grouping of several trees can make a good wildlife planting. The tree is tough and adaptable, grows rapidly, and its deep tap root gives it good drought resistance. It can survive in shade, but grows and fruits best in sun. Young American Persimmon trees planted in good soil and a sunny location can begin fruiting in about 6-8 years.


Watch the video: American Persimmon Diospyros virginiana Part I