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History of Persimmon Trees

Japanese persimmons, ‘Diospyros kaki L.,’ were introduced into the United States from Japan by Admiral Perry who discovered the fruit growing on the coast of Southern Japan in 1851.



In William Bartram's book, Travels, page 38 he wrote: “I observed in the ancient fields....Persimmon....diospyros....(the Indians) inform us, that these trees were grown by the ancients on account of their fruit, as being wholesome and nourishing food. Though these are natives of the forests, yet they thrive better, and are more fruitful in cultivated plantations and the fruit is in great estimation with the present generations of Indians.” William Bartram wrote on page 286, that in Pennsylvania he had observed the crown bird or cedar bird, “Ampelis garrulus,” feeding on the American Persimmon fruit “(Dyospyros Virginiana)”, “in November and December they appear in smaller flights, feeding on the fruit of the Persimmon.”


Most of the early Japanese persimmon introductions in 1828 were sprouted from seed in Washington, DC, but were unsuccessful, because of the unusually cold winters experienced during that period. The USDA introduced grafted cultivars of Japanese persimmon into California and Georgia beginning in 1870, and many of these experimental persimmon tree trials were begun in Central Florida in the early 1900’s at the University located in Gainesville, Florida.


One thousand cultivars of Japanese persimmon are available from Japan, but from the hundreds of tree cultivars tested in the United States during the past years, only a handful of commercial trees should be considered by the home gardener for reliable fruit production. The cultivars of Japanese persimmon trees recommended for home gardeners are Fuyu, Fuyugaki, Giant Fuyu, Chocolate, Eureka, Hachiya, Jiro, Tam-o-pan, and Tanenashi.



Many cultivars were planted in Florida by Professor Hume of the University of Florida at Gainesville, Florida during the early 1900’s. The trees were a sensation because of the prolific early bearing and the observation that the trees ripened into large crops of colorful, juicy fruit in late fall when very few fresh delicacies are available. Reports of early Japanese persimmon tree orchards show that in excess of 22,000 trees were being grown commercially in Florida alone. The Japanese persimmon trees are classifieds into two categories using two terms that confuse most people. The use of the term “non” is interpreted by most people as a negative, meaning a tree that demonstrates a less desirable quality. Japanese persimmon trees produce fruit that is non-astringent or astringent. The non-astringent term in this case is more desirable for eating to the prevailing garden public, because it contains a “non” bitter taste in the green or hard fruit state. Eventually the astringent Japanese persimmon fruit will develop a juicy, flavorful, very desirable, taste when it ripens to the point of being soft. The peak flavor of a Japanese persimmon never really climaxes until both the non-astringent and the astringent persimmon both ripen completely on the tree to the point of softness. The use of these terms in recommending the purchase of Japanese persimmon trees has been unfortunate, to the point of discouraging many gardeners from planting trees of the astringent persimmon cultivars. Plum trees, for instance, are not classified into two categories of sour and sweet, even though a hard green plum before fully ripening is sour to taste, yet it becomes pleasantly sweet and juicy in the soft colored stage.


Some botanist historians argue that the Japanese persimmon tree documented as growing there one thousand years ago actually originated in China. This argument is often repeated by academics, when national origins of plants are debated about many other plants, but the argument is meaningless. It is realized by geologists that the land boundary of Japan was united to the continent of Asia at some past period of ancient history.



Japanese persimmon fruits are produced in great numbers by California orchardists and the fruit begins showing up on grocery shelves around Thanksgiving. South American persimmon fruit production matures at different seasons than persimmons, ripening period in America, so that many grocery stores can stock this delicious tasty fruit year round. Japanese oriental fruits can be stored for two months for future consumption at a refrigerator temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Japanese persimmons grown from seed can grow to 40 feet tall; however, modern grafted cultivars rarely grow very tall. Fruit shapes vary wildly from plum, tomato, and heart-shaped to square, oval, tear drop, and lobed or many combinations in between.


The small yellow wax-like flowers fill the air with a sweet pleasant aroma. The flowers may or may not require cross pollination, and will mature into a various array of sizes--up to one pound each—and the color ranges from yellow to dark-reddish orange.


The wood is among the hardest known to man, being highly prized and desirable for wood carving by Japanese artists. The Japanese persimmon tree is a very important landscape specimen tree because of the deep green waxy leaves that turn such brilliant colors in the fall, often appearing like a brightly lit Christmas tree in the landscape.


The American persimmon, ‘Diospyros virginiana,’ was found growing in Virginia by the early American Captain John Smith in 1609, who described the tree and the persimmon fruit in great detail and as tasting like an apricot.


William Bartram, the famous early American botanist encountered the native American persimmon trees, ‘Diospyros virginiana,’ as documented in his book, Travels, of 1773. The native American persimmon was also brought to the attention of early American Presidents and plant collectors, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.


American persimmons contain a few seeds in the juicy, pinkish-orange fruit which often ripens in September. These delicious fruits have a natural juicy, sweet, fruity taste when overripe in the pinkish-orange stage and should never be picked from the tree until plump, soft to the touch, and completely ripe.


The American persimmon grows in almost every forest habitat of the United States, and the hard wood of the trees is valued by mountain wood carvers for its decorative grain. The wood is also in high demand for the manufacture of golf clubs prized for the durability and bounce projectability of golf balls coming in contact with the golf club wood.


By Pat Rick