The American Persimmon Tree
The native American persimmon tree (diospyros virginiana), grows wild from southern Connecticut to Florida, and as far west as Kansas and Iowa. We have wild American persimmons growing on our property, and are eagerly anticipating the fall harvest!
Audio Article – American Persimmons:
Persimmons are a great edible landscape tree, that adds year round variety, color, beauty and fruit.
Like the PawPaw, wild persimmons have been foraged and cultivated as a food source by Native Americans since Prehistoric days. 1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diospyros_virginiana Given the right conditions, a tree can reach over 60 feet in height and produce a lot of fruit. A large mature wild persimmon fruit tree averages 55 pounds of fruit per year, with a range between 35 and 75 pounds. 2)http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_20031966.pdf
Fruit of the Gods
The American Persimmon, Diospyros Virginiana, belongs to a genus of 700 trees and shrubs. The literal translation of the Greek name is: “Zeus’s wheat”, but the more common interpretation is “divine food” or “fruit of the gods”.
The American persimmon tree, diospyros virginiana, can reach over 60 feet high and produce an average of 55 pounds of fruit per year.
The ripe fruits of wild persimmons contain a sugar content that rivals that of dates, and reminiscent of a cross between fig date pudding and apple butter. However, biting into a persimmon before it’s completely ripe can produce interesting facial contortions and the sensation your mouth has been packed with baby powdered cotton. Bleh… bleh… blehk!
You’ll never forget—or repeat—the experience of biting into a not-yet–ripe American persimmon.
There are better flavored cultivars and Asian varieties that do not bear this astringent quality and often produce much larger, apple size fruit. The Fuyu persimmon (Diospyros kaki), is one of the most popular varieties, and definitely our favorite for a number of reasons, which you can read about in this article. But the wild American persimmons are amazing, when fully ripe and ready.
Completely ripe, American persimmons are luscious, sweet and reminiscent of a date fig pudding and apple butter.
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! You can read more about it in this article.
Growing American Persimmon Trees
- Propagate from seeds, cuttings, suckers, and grafts
- 3-5 years to harvest
- Slow growing
- USDA Growing zones 4-10
- Well drained, loamy soil
- Drought tolerant once mature
- 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.3)http://uncommonfruit.cias.wisc.edu/american-persimmon/
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. 4)https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=10
If you are wondering where persimmons and other forage sources are situated in your area, check out this unique interactive mapping site. We discovered a ripening persimmon tree just a few clicks away from Wake Forest University in our area. The site also allows folks to enter plants and their locations with a pin feature.
American persimmons need an opposite gender to cross pollinate. And then, of course you need the pollinators. Try procuring some alternate genders. Your nursery source can help you there. If you’re looking at wild persimmons and trying to determine tree gender, this might help.
How to determine persimmon tree gender:
- Look at year-old growth on the persimmon tree in March, and find its inconspicuous flowers.
- Three flowers together signify male blossoms, which have a pink tinge.
- A persimmon tree with a large percentage of male flowers is male.
- Female flowers grow alone and have an off-white or cream color.
- A majority of these kinds of flowers on the tree mean the tree is female.
- Repeat identification the following year to learn whether or not the tree changes the sex of flowers it bears.
How to Harvest for Best Persimmon Taste
“[It] will draw a man’s mouth awry with much torment.” However, when properly ripened, many think that the persimmon deserves its genus name, Disospyros, or “food of the gods.”
~Captain John Smith of Jamestown Colony fame5)https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=10
To harvest American persimmons can be tricky, especially for wild persimmons, because it’s a short window from ripening to harvest. The best tasting persimmons are those that have ripened and fallen off the tree naturally. However, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and be there before the critters.
American Persimmons Harvesting Challenges
- Getting to the ripened fruit before the racoons, opossums and birds
- Getting to them before the bugs and insects
- Short harvest window
Essential Harvest Tip for American Persimons
Below is a short video showing how we’re preparing to harvest our wild persimmons. This method is particularly useful when the trees are remotely located. This works… unless the local wildlife gets to it first, as happened for us. So… when it comes to harvesting wild persimmons it’s a hit-or-miss. However…
You can pick persimmons early and ripen them to be almost as good as fresh fallen.
“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.” Garden.org
How to Prepare and Store American Persimmons
Harvested fruit can be refrigerated for several weeks. If going into the freezer, they can be frozen whole or peeled, pureed and placed in sealed tight bags or containers.
The freezing process actually lessens the astringent quality if the fruit was picked a bit early. Fruits can be softened and ripened more quickly if an apple or green banana is placed in a loosely folded paper bag along with the persimmons.
Persimmons (wild or not) are eaten fresh, dried, or cooked. You can slice them like apples or dice them like dates. Dried persimmons can be added to cereals, bread, cookies, and basically whatever recipes call for raisins or dates. 6)http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/health_benefits_of_persimmons We’ve discovered several excellent books that contain a wide array of recipes for this luscious fruit.
You can use persimmons the way you would apples or peaches. Favorite uses include:
- Butters and preserves
- Fresh canned
- Refrigerated for several weeks
- Frozen – add tsp lemon juice to help preserve color; store up to 6 mo. in freezer,
- Fresh whole
- Pureed in food processor (store in 1-2 cup sizes needed for recipes or in ice cube trays)*
*Frozen ice cubes of persimmons are great for adding to smoothies.
Here are a couple of recipes to get you started.
Persimmon Smoothie – 1 serving
Inspired by CentralTexasGardener.org7)http://www.centraltexasgardener.org/resource/preparing-persimmons-for-freezing-or-for-cooking/
1/2 cup fresh or frozen persimmon pulp*
1/2 cup fresh or frozen pineapple, apple, blueberries or blackberries*
1 cup vanilla almond or coconut milk
1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup if you have a sweet tooth
*(or 4 persimmon / fruit cubes)
Aunt Pat’s Persimmon Cookies Recipe
Recipe from UC Davis8)http://www.fruitandvegetable.ucdavis.edu/?blogtag=recipes&blogasset=2231
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
LIGHTLY BEAT AND ADD:
1 cup Hachiya persimmon pulp (about 3 ripe [very soft] persimmons) (Gardens All would substitute wild persimmons)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
SIFT TOGETHER AND THEN ADD:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Drop the dough in generously rounded teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 12 to 14 minutes.
Persimmon Whip Recipe
Recipe from MSU9)http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/health_benefits_of_persimmons
3 ½ Tablespoons honey
7 ripe persimmons, peeled and pureed
1 pint chilled whipping cream
Stir honey into persimmon puree to taste. Use electric mixer and whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold persimmon honey mixture into whipped cream. Divide into parfait dishes or baked pie shell. Chill or freeze.
Festivals honoring this unique food source can be found all over the US.
Persimmon festivals typically occur in late October. Here’s a starter list, but you can search for Persimmon [my city name], to see what may be happening near you.
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson
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