Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Permaculture Plants: Persimmons

Ripe Persimmons ready to be picked!

Common Name: Persimmon, Kaki
Scientific Name: Diospyros kaki (aka Oriental or Japanese Persimmon or Kaki)
                            Diospyros lotus (Date Plum)
                            Diospyros virginiana (aka American Persimmon)
Family: Ebenaceae
There are two main species of persimmons, the Oriental Persimmon (or Kaki) and the American Persimmon.  The persimmon fruit can range from yellowish-orange to dark reddish-orange.  The fruit size can range from the smaller American Persimmons (about 1/2 inch diameter, about the size of a cherry tomato) to the larger Oriental Persimmons (up to 4 inches diamter, about the size of a medium tomato).  The texture of a ripe persimmon can range from jelly-like and almost dripping from the cut fruit to much dryer but still soft, almost like a firm melon or a soft apple.  When not quite ripe, some persimmons have a lot of tannins and can be very bitter or dry, but when ripe, the persimmon is rich and honey-sweet with a spicy apricot flavor.

Persimmons can be categorized as Astringent or Non-Astringent.  Astringent Persimmons have that bitter-dry, chalk-like taste to them before they are ripe.  American Persimmons and astringent Oriental Persimmons are astringent, and they should be allowed to ripen on the tree or picked underripe and allowed to ripen.  When ripe, the skin becomes soft and the skin is almost translucent, and the fruit will easily separate from the calyx.  Non-Astingent Persimmons or Non-Astingent Kakis (since only kakis can be non-astringent) are ripe when the fruit is fully colored.  They will still be firm at this point, but are ready to eat.

The Date Plum is a tree with berries less than an inch in diameter.  It is one of the oldest cultivated plants.  It is from these fruits that taste like a mix between a honey-filled date and a sweet plum, that the name Diospyrus originates (see Trivia below).

The Oriental Persimmon is native to China but spread very quickly through all of Asia.  It has been cultivated for thousands of years and was only brought to Europe and the U.S. in the early 1800's. 
The Date Plum is native to southeast Europe and southwest Asia and has been cherished since before the time of the Greeks.
The American Persimmon is native to the eastern U.S. and has been used for its wood and fruit for thousands of years by Native Americans.
  • The scientific genus name, Diospyrus, means "fruit of the gods"... not a bad description of a perfectly ripe persimmon.
  • Persimmon fruits are technically berries.
  • One Oriental Persimmon variety is commonly sold as "Sharon Fruit", named after a plain in Isreal where the plant was cultivated.
  • There are over 2,000 varieties of Persimmons in the world.
  • Underripe fruits can be ripened on a windows sill, a counter, in a bag with a ripe apple, or in a bag with a small glass of whiskey
Primary Uses:
  • Fresh Eating - only eat ripe fruits!
  • Dried  - some varieties can be left to dry on the tree, others can be dried like an apricot, and others can be peeled and dried with frequent "massages" to improve the texture
  • Frozen and then eaten chilled
  • Baked into breads
  • Carmelized into glazes
  • Main or supplementary ingredient in sauces
  • Fermented in Beers, Wines, Brandies, and Vinegars
Secondary Uses:
  • Specimen tree
  • Wood - small wooden objects are typically made from Persimmon wood (D. virginiana can be coppiced)
  • General insect (including bees) nectar source
  • Winter wildlife food source
  • Unripe fruits are high in tannins and can be used in tanning and dyeing
  • Tree barks is said to have medicinal properties
  • Fruits have been used to make ink
  • D. kaki: 1-2 bushels (35-70 liters), can produce up to 400 lbs of fruit
  • D. virginiana: 1 bushel (35 liters)

Harvesting: As late as possible (September - October), usually after the leaves have dropped
Storage: Underripe fruits can be stored in a cool place for up to 2 months
Hardiness Zone:
     D. kaki: 7-10
     D virginiana: 5-9

AHS Heat Zone:
     D. kaki: 10-7
     D virginiana: 9-4
Chilling Requirement: 50-450 Units or Hours
Plant Type: Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Thousands of varieties are available.  Use only named varieties for best flavor.

D. kaki may need cross-pollination.  Pollen may come from a separate male tree or from a male flower that randomly blossoms on a primarily female tree.
D. lotus and D. virginiana have male and female trees and both are needed for fruiting
NOTE: Pollination levels can change the character of the fruit.  There are some prized varieties of goma (the Japanese word for these brown fleshed fruit that are eaten when still firm).  Tsurunoko, sold as "Chocolate persimmon" for its dark brown flesh, Maru, sold as "Cinnamon persimmon" for its spicy flavor, and Hyakume, sold as "Brown sugar" are the three best known.

Flowering: Summer (July - August)

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 2-6 years
Years to Maximum Bearing: 25-50 years
Years of Useful Life:
     D. kaki: 300-600 years!
     D virginiana: 20-300 years!
     D. kaki: 13-40 ft (4-12 m) tall and wide
     D. lotus: 33 ft (10 m) high and 20 ft (6 m) wide
     D. virginiana: 50-75 ft (15-22 m) high and 25-50 ft (8-15 m) wide
Roots: Tap Root (D. virginiana can produce suckers, new shoots from underground roots)
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium
Light: Perfers full sun
Shade: Does not tolerate much shade
     D. kaki: Medium
     D virginiana: Medium to some drought tolerance
pH: 6.0 - 8.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
American Persimmons are one of the few plants that tolerate juglone, a chemical produced by black walnuts that can poison other plants, so American Persimmons can be used as a buffer plant between your black walnuts and your other forest garden plants.

Propagation: Seeds (2-3 months stratification).  Grafting.
Maintenance: Minimal once established.

Underripe fruits have been very rarely associated with a very rare condition, the formation of Persimmon Bezoars.  These are accumulations of undigestible polymers from a persimmon specific tannin.  This only happens with extremely high consumption (one man ate over 2 lbs daily for 40 years!).  These phyto (or plant based) bezoars traditionally were only removed via surgery.  More recently drinking Coca-Cola to break the chemical bonds of the bezoar has been used.  Amazing!

Classic illustration of American Persimmons (above) and Oriental Persimmons (below).
From the Encyclopedia of Food.


  1. I have never once had a persimmon, but this post has inspired me to try them, and if I like them, include a few trees in my forest garden. Thanks so much for your fantastic blog. I love the encyclopedic approach you take to everything you post.

    Interesting article I found after researching persimmons after reading your blog post...

    Folk knowledge is folk knowledge and might just be for fun, but that's not going to stop me from cutting open a couple of local persimmon seeds just to see.

    Thanks again!

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  2. Ha! That is a great link. Who knows how much truth is really there, but I think we have forgotten too much wisdom from our elders.

    As I said in the post, the key to good persimmons is to make sure they are ripe. A perfectly ripe persimmon... not much better. :)

    Thanks for the comments!

  3. I thought persimmons were disk shaped. All the ones I have seen looked really similar but flat not round, and tasted pretty bad. Are the organic ones different?

  4. You were probably looking at one of the Oriental varieties. They can be quite flat. If they tasted bad, it was probably because they were not ripe yet. If you eat them before they are ripe, they will taste terrible. You can place them on a windowsill until the skin is soft and almost transluscent. They should taste much better then.

  5. They've sat for about a week since last time I tried one. I tried one again and they are delicious now. Thanks.

  6. John, great article! I want to share a link with you:
    This local farm makes the massaged dried persimmons you described, called hoshigaki, and has a great slideshow showing the traditional process.

  7. In Greece we call them Lotus. It is believed that they are the Lotuses that made the sailors of Odysseus forget, in the land of the Lotus-eaters (Laistrygones).

  8. Great article. Saved for future reference.
    Planning on growing D. Kaki in Ghana, Africa. With our heat and no winter., I pray defoliation during the harmattan will suffice and they fruit.
    Keep up the good work!

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