Plant Collector : Persimmons (Diospyros kaki, probably “Hachiya”)

The persimmon - worth growing as an ornamental even if the fruit is not to one's taste

The persimmon – worth growing as an ornamental even if the fruit is not to one’s taste

As autumn draws into winter, our old persimmon tree looks mighty spectacular, even if we aren’t huge fans of the fruit. The large leaves turn golden before falling and the fruit hang on like big orange-gold orbs for a long time. The tree itself is smallish at about 4 metres and never receives any care or attention.

The diospyros family is a large one, best known for giving us both persimmons and the heavy dark timber often called ebony wood. D. kaki is native to China but now grown in many other areas of the world. The commercial cultivars often originate from Japan although Israel has also adopted it as the Sharon fruit.

Being an old tree, ours is an astringent variety. A high tannin content means that any fruit less than very ripe indeed will pucker the mouth. The best parts are the gelatinous segments in the centre. The surrounding flesh can be a bit cloying but no doubt would make an excellent sherbet or sorbet. Nowadays most people plant the modern, non astringent varieties which can be eaten before reaching the soft stage of ripeness. “Fuyu” is the most common non astringent variety here and there is now a small commercial orchard industry. You can buy the fruit in the supermarkets and eat them while still crisp, somewhat like an apple.

Persimmon fruit must be a taste I have yet to acquire despite its international popularity. No matter. The tree fully justifies its place as an ornamental at this time of the year.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.