Diospyros virginia (American), kaki (Asian)
Plant for mighty and chunky wood, a riparian fruit-producing tree for humans and wildlife, and for Vitamin C and constipation relief!
American hardy from Zone 4-9, Asian Zones 6-9. American can grow 30-60 feet, 20-30 feet wide; Asian up to 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Needs male and female to cross-pollinate.
Diospyros means “fruit of the gods,” so why wouldn’t you want to try it? But make sure the orange fruits are fully ripe before eating them or they’ll turn your mouth to chalk. Some believe hard frosts make them sweeter, but they’re ripe when soft and squishy and have an amazing unique flavor that’s wonderful fresh, dried, in puddings or breads or even beer and molasses from the fruit pulp. We like pressing them through a strainer to make a delicious spread. If we don’t eat them all, then squirrel, fox, skunk, bear, coyote, raccoon, quail, wild turkey, cedar waxwing, and catbird will join the feast! Raccoons and foxes are primary planters, pooping out the seeds throughout the forest, which we endorse as a propagation technique. Almost 50 species of caterpillars eat the leaves which, like the fruit, are high in Vitamin C and once used to cure scurvy. Persimmons sleep a little later in the spring than most fruit trees, so their late flowers are an important nectar-source for bees.
People have been eating American ‘simmons down South for a long time. The word persimmon comes from an Algonquin word and Cherokee medicine has used the fruit to treat diarrhea, sore throats, heartburn, and hemorrhoids. The pucker-inducing astringency makes a mouth rinse for sore throats and a decoction (a medicinal liquor made from concentrating) of boiled fruit has been used for bloody stools. American Persimmon start producing when only a few years old once the remarkably deep taproot is established. A member of the Ebony family, the nearly-black heartwood is extremely strong, used for making golf club heads, and burns hot. The tree’s very recognizable by its gorgeous corky blocked bark. They like warm sunny spots with good moisture but well-drained. A good riparian tree, though they’d prefer not to have constantly wet feet, and neither do we! Southern folklore says the seeds predict the harshness of winters. Split open a seed and look for three images: a spoon means you’ll shovel snow; a knife indicates cutting cold winds; but a fork cues you into a mild winter with enough eat. We haven’t tried yet, but we’ll let you know how it goes.
Like its American cousin, Asian Persimmon ripens in Autumn but is a little crunchier than American. Asian Persimmon is native to China with over 2,000 cultivars now available. Marco Polo reported that Chinese trades exchanged Persimmon. Asian farmers introduced the tree to California in the 19th century, and it was the most widely grown fruit in East Asia until the 20th. Japan now ranks it as their 5th most important fruit where it’s popular as a medicinal tea to remove toxins, for its cooling effects, and its assistance with blood circulation and lowering blood pressure. A quarter of the fruit is sugar and peels have been powdered for sweetener. Those bitter tannins have been used to brew sake, but you can also lose the astringency by drying them into something like a date. Other incredible uses include as laxative, unripe fruit juice as an aid for hypertension, and, once again, unripe fruit ripened in containers with the leaves to make them sweet and relieve inflammation and fever. Oh, and the leaves are used for pickling radishes. This tree does just about everything.
We harvest our American seeds from tall and healthy trees growing wild and on friends’ farms. Seedlings can be so-called male, female, or both, or can change, so plant a few just in case. We have scion from several Asian cultivars that can be grafted onto American rootstock.