Beautifully edible persimmons
The past week has seen decent rainfall, almost an inch already, and also some beautiful moonlit nights, the full moon having occurred on Christmas Eve. The above-freezing temperatures have benefited the jaunty little gift persimmon tree from Virginia that arrived at our house and was duly planted the day after Christmas.
My daughter, since taking up Virginia residency, has become an enthusiastic advocate of planting, eating, and cooking with more persimmons! Persimmons are little grown in these parts, the northern limit of their native range being Connecticut. While there may be many more on Martha's Vineyard, I know of only a few, most of which are growing at the Polly Hill Arboretum. Yet they are hardy here and thrive.
"For a pretty yard tree, oriental persimmons have it all. Many visitors ask 'What's this tree?' when they walk by them in the orchard. Its large magnolia-like leaves, pretty fruit, and showy fall color catch people's attention. Ease of care and abundant fall fruit are also great reasons to give a persimmon a prestigious place in the yard."-Edible Landscaping catalogue.
The persimmons, Diospyros, belong to the Ebenaceae. (This is the same family as ebony.) Most of the 475 species of persimmon, both shrubs and small trees, are tropical; but two of the temperate species produce the edible fruits that are also called persimmons. Diospyros virginiana is native to North America; D. kaki is native to Japan and China. D. virginiana is dioecious (male and female flowers on separate trees), requiring a male for pollination. Asian persimmons produce seedless fruit without pollination.
Persimmons (the fruit) range in color from light apricot orange to the color of a 'Sungold' tomato, through chocolate brown. They are highly decorative, due to the ripening, which continues after the leaves fall. There are two general size categories. The persimmons native to North America, Diospyros virginiana or American, are small-fruited, reminiscent of beach rosehips. Those native to Asia, D. kaki or Asian (Oriental) persimmons, are much larger, like a tomato.
The fruit of both usually possesses an astringent quality that disappears once the fruit is fully ripe (or becomes frosted). The fully ripe fruit is luscious, almost custardy, and is beautiful. Some of the Oriental persimmons are edible while still firm, and are eaten like an apple then.
Our gift tree is a dwarf D. kaki cultivar, 'Jiro,' (also known in this country as 'Fuyu') grafted onto rootstock of the native American persimmon, D. virginiana. This was done for greater cold hardiness, which is listed as from zone 6 to 10. (Some Asian varieties are grafted onto the rootstock of another member of the family, D. lotus, the date plum.) The mature height is 15 feet. 'Jiro' ('Fuyu') is one of the cultivars whose fruit may be eaten while still firm.
The persimmon tree is an understory or edge grower, meaning it can tolerate some shade. But for best fruit, as with any orchard tree, give persimmons full sun. Asian Persimmons in particular need full sun to fruit and ripen well. Water well until established. They are not particular about soil, but mulching out to the drip line keeps competition from grass at bay.
The dwarf cultivars are suitable for incorporating into perennial beds and are useful for smaller gardens and properties. The 3-5" oval leaves are a shining glossy deep green. In fall they display beautiful red to purple color, which when combined with the glowing orange fruit is a striking picture. The ripening persimmons continue to be very showy after the leaves finally drop, until harvested.
Our persimmon came from an interesting Virginia nursery called Edible Landscaping. Their entire catalogue of nursery stock, much of it unusual, consists of plants that can be eaten as well as having ornamental qualities. Online find them at www.ediblelandscaping.com.
Other suppliers of unusual fruits like persimmons include Miller Nurseries of Canandaigua, N.Y., 800-836-9630, www.millernurseries.com with 'Meader' cold-hardy, self-pollinating persimmons available. One Green World in Molalla, Ore., 877-353-4028, www.onegreenworld.com lists 17 persimmon varieties. One Green World also lists a 24-page booklet, "Persimmon Recipes." Also located on the west coast is Raintree Nursery in Morton, Wash., 360-496-6400, www.raintreenursery.com, whose catalogue contains 12 varieties.
Catalogues are piling in now, providing plenty of material for study, should the weather cause us to be housebound. Those mentioned above, and others like them, contain a great deal of useful cultural information. More likely is a less "wintry" winter (at least, until February coastal storm time begins) where we might actually be outdoors plotting and locating our next planting schemes.
Best wishes for happy planting in 2008!