Great Fruit Trees for the Deep South: The Persimmon


| 2/19/2013 2:22:39 PM


Tags: deep south, fruit trees, persimmon, David Goodman,

PERSIMMON PICKING JAPANESE PRINTNorthern gardeners often look down upon the South, shaking their heads over our sad lack of good cherry, apple, and pear trees. And while it’s true we can’t grow most apples or fine European dessert pears - let alone sweet cherries – we can grow some pretty cool species, including many that can’t stand northern winters. Similar to my “Survival Plant Profiles” at www.floridasurvivalgardening.com, I’ve decided, as a matter of public service, to share a few “Great Fruit Tree” profiles with you in coming posts here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS – starting with one of my favorite trees: the persimmon.

People either love or hate persimmons. Unlike apples, oranges or bananas… persimmons elicit strong emotions. They’re like the “Ford vs. Chevy” of fruits. There are probably a few reasons for this, one being the various varieties of persimmons people may have encountered. When you mention persimmon to one person, he may remember the small and horribly astringent fruit he ate from a tree in his grandmother’s yard. Another person might remember being tricked by a roommate into eating an unripe (and thus horrible) persimmon from the Asian market. Another more favored individual may remember the honeyed delight of a delicious variety flown in from Israel.

Persimmons are roughly divided into two camps: the astringent and the non-astringent. The non-astringent varieties, like “Fuyu,” won’t overwhelm you with bitterness and make your mouth feel cottony for an hour if you eat them before they’re fully ripe. It’s the opposite for the astringent varieties. Eat those too early and you’ll never forget the experience.

To further complicate things, we also have a native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that many folks remember from when they were kids. This species, which is dioecious (meaning it has both male and female trees), bears small fruits that fall squarely into the “astringent” camp. The native varieties are also often used as a rootstock for Japanese varieties due to their excellent root systems. Folks growing up with these trees will sometimes divide persimmons into “native” and “Japanese” or “Asian” varieties, rather than “astringent” and “non-astringent.”

Whew. Confused yet? I used to be. Now I grow native and Japanese persimmons, of both astringent and non-astringent varieties. And I’ve come to see this tree as one of the very best for the South, for a few very good reasons.

But – before I get to those reasons – if you’ve been turned off by persimmons and the horror of cotton-mouth, you need to overcome your issues and try a nice ripe Fuyu variety. Go to your local higher-end supermarket in the fall and pick one up. Eat it. They taste like sunshine and honey. (If you don’t like it, your issues are much deeper than cotton-mouth. You need to talk to a certified psychological plant avoidance counselor. Do not pass go, do not pick up an apple on the way out!)




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