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Persimmon

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Persimmon trees (genus Diospyros) bears an abundant crop of rich-tasting fruit, and it’s been a major fruit crop in the Orient for many centuries (possibly millennia).

“A pasture tree for the beasts and a kingly fruit for man” is how J. Russel Smith, author of the 1929 classic Tree Crops, so eloquently describes the Persimmon. It’s very harsh and astringent before being ripe, but when it’s just right it has an exquisitely rich flavor.

And Captain John Smith, first explorer of Virginia, declared that the persimmon was as delicious as an “apricock.”

There are over two hundred species of persimmons scattered about the world, but the most common ones are the American persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) and the Oriental persimmon tree (Diospyros kaki). The Date Plum (Diospyros lotus) is another well known variety.

Persimmon fruit

Persimmon fruit in west Auckland, New Zealand. Photo credit: Sandy Austin

Where It Grows

The American persimmon grows on a million square miles of the southeastern part of our country. The trees more cold-hardy than their Asian counterparts making them more suitable for northern growers. It’s hardy to USDA zones 4-8 and UK zone 4.

The Oriental persimmon is a fruit of great climatic range, being a major autumn fruit of both North and South China. As J. Russel Smith mentions in his book:

I have seen the rich orchards bending down with the big fruits in the shadow of the mountain range north of Peking that bears the Great Wall, northern boundary of China. Peking has the latitude of Philadelphia and the climate of Omaha (almost precisely), save possibly some spring changes from hot to cold. I have also seen the Chinese persimmon trees growing abundantly and rendering important food service in the hills of Fukien back of Foochow in the latitude of Palm Beach, Florida.

Why We Like It

Here’s why we think the persimmon is worthy of your attention, and worthy of a spot in your garden – with quotes from J. Russel Smith’s classic Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.

  • It bears fruit profusely, often as much as the tree can physically support, and many trees bear with great regularity.
  • The fruit of the persimmon is very nutritious. It is said to be the most nutritious fruit grown in the eastern United States.
  • The delicious fruit can be eaten fresh (make sure it’s ripe), dried, frozen. It can be baked into breads, made into jams, sauces, wine, and more.
  • It’s kept through most of winter in a fresh condition, and can be dried as figs and prunes for extended storage.
  • Every animal on the American farm eats persimmons greedily, making it a great fodder crop
  • Native American persimmons generally blooms late, making them likely to escape from frost injury.
  • The persimmon is remarkable in the length of its fruiting season. “With the persimmon nature unaided has rivaled the careful results of man with the peach and apple, for the wild persimmons ripen often in the same locality continuously from August or September until February, fruit where animals can go and pick it up through this long season of automatic feeding. In this respect it is ahead of the mulberry.”
  • Another added virtue is that of automatic storage. Nearly half of the season of persimmon-dropping takes place after frost has stopped all growth, a time when farm animals are usually eating food stored in barns.
  • It has an extreme catholicity as to soil. “It thrives in the white sand of the coastal plain, in the clay of the Piedmont hills and the Blue Ridge, in the muck of the Mississippi alluvium, and on the cherty hills of the Ozarks.” – J. Russel Smith
  • The American persimmon can grow in very poor soil. “I have seen them grow and produce fruit in the raw subsoil clay of Carolina roadsides and in the bald places in the hilly cotton fields where all the top soil had been washed away and there was neither crop nor weeds – save the persimmon, which is one of the great weeds of the South.” – J. Russel Smith
  • As for medicinal properties, here’s what Plants for a Future says: “A decoction of the boiled fruit was used to treat bloody stools. (This probably refers to the unripe fruit, which is very astringent). The leaves are rich in vitamin C and are used as an antiscorbutic. A decoction of the inner-bark is highly astringent. It has been used as a mouth rinse in the treatment of thrush and sore throats. Used externally as a wash for warts or cancers.”
Dried persimmons

Peeled, flattened, and dried persimmons (shìbǐng, 柿餅) in a Xi’an market. Photo: Greg

So what’s the future for the persimmon tree? We’d say, it’s what we make of it. The potential to make something great of it sure exists. As J. Russel Smith says:

There should be a corps of men at work right now upon the persimmon. Think of the work involved in finding the dozen best wild parent persimmon trees suited to make a crop series for East Texas, the Ozarks, southern Indiana, central Tennessee, north Florida, central Georgia, eastern North Caro- lina, western North Carolina, central Virginia, southeastern Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and for extending the range to places where it does not now grow.

The persimmon alone could occupy profitably for many decades the time and resources of an institution with a staff of twenty to forty persons. They could probably produce crops that would rival corn, as well as the apple and the orange.

Where To Get It

Got pigs? Then planting mulberries and persimmon on your farm could make a lot of sense. As J. Russel Smith concludes “It should be a nice element of farm management to let the pigs that picked up their own living on mulberries in June and July continue the process with persimmons from September until Christmas or snowfall.”

Here’s where to find persimmon trees and seeds:

United States

Stark Bro’s
Willis Orchard
Grow Organic

Europe

Agroforestry Research Trust (American persimmon / Oriental persimmon seeds / Live plants)

Learn More

Plants for a Future (American persimmon / Oriental persimmon / Black persimmon)
Temperate Climate Permaculture


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