The American Persimmon

The American Persimmon

Persimmons are one of the most popular fruits in Asia, but they are underappreciated in North America, despite a very fine native persimmon species: the American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

The American persimmon is a large tree native to much of the eastern United States. Like Asian persimmons, it produces delicious fruit in the fall that is an important food source for both humans and animals. Of the fruit, Captain John Smith of Jamestown wrote “The fruit is like a medlar, it is first green, then yellow and red when it is ripe. If it is not ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment [but] when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot.” Persimmons were popular with both American Indian tribes and colonists. Persimmon pudding was a traditional dish at Thanksgiving and Christmas for the early colonists.

In the northern areas of its range, the growing seasons are too short for the fruits to ripen and they are inedible to humans, but remain a popular wildlife food. Persimmons are a favorite of whitetail deer. Other animals who enjoy the fruits include wild turkey, quail, squirrels, foxes, some songbirds, and domestic pigs.

American persimmons require pollination to produce fruit, so you will need to plant at least two trees. Fortunately, they are highly ornamental in addition to being productive, and are especially valued for their unique bark, which resembles the skin of an alligator.

The most popular Asian persimmon, the Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki), has a limited range in North America because it is only hardy to zone 7, but it has the advantage that most cultivars do not require pollination to produce fruit. Asian persimmons also come in both astringent and non-astringent varieties. Non-astringent persimmons can be eaten when hard as apples. Astringent Asian persimmons, like all American persimmons, can only be eaten when soft and fully ripe.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sondyaustin/3612415405/