If you’re thinking of planting fruit trees, but you want something a little out of the ordinary, consider the wild persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). This North American native fruit tree is cold-hardy and adaptable, needs no pampering, has lovely checkerboard bark and glossy dark green leaves, and bears delicious fruit every fall. The fruit is about the size of a cherry tomato—much smaller than the bright orange apple-sized varieties you sometimes see in stores (those are Asian persimmons)—and very tender when ripe. Too tender, in fact, to ship, which is why you don’t see wild persimmons in stores. All the more reason to have them in your own private orchard.
Common name: Persimmon, American persimmon, possumwood
Botanical name: Diospyros virginiana
Plant type: Tree
Zones: 4 to 9
Height: 35 to 70 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average
• Moisture: Medium
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil, but leave a few inches of space around the trunk.
• Pruning: Minimal pruning needed. Remove diseased, damaged, or crossing branches in spring or fall.
• Fertilizer: Not needed.
• By seed
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to fungal spots, powdery mildew, and fruit rot.
• The persimmon borer may attack the tree, but four-legged critters who are after the fruit (like raccoons, foxes, and deer) will be bigger pests than any insects.
• Persimmons can be fairly large trees, so give them plenty of space.
• Most persimmon trees are dioecious, meaning there are male trees and female trees. You usually need one of each to get fruit, though some varieties are self-fruitful (see Varieties, below).
• Persimmon trees will sucker. If you put one in the middle of your lawn, this won’t be a problem—you’ll just mow down the suckers with the grass. If your tree is in a woodland setting, you’ll need to keep cutting back the suckers, unless you’re hoping for a persimmon thicket.
• Leaves are red to gold in the fall.
• Early Golden has very sweet, deep orange fruit. The tree is usually self-fruitful, though to ensure pollination you can plant another. Fruit ripens early. The first named variety and the most popular American persimmon.
• Meander is another early variety. It produces sweet orange fruit that is seedless if the tree was not pollinated. Fruit ripens in early October. One of the best for cold climates. Very hardy and productive.
• Garretson produces large, sweet fruit early in the season. Needs a male tree for pollination.
All in the family
• The persimmon tree is in the ebony family. Its wood is very hard and is used to make bows, pool cues, and golf club heads.
• Many varieties of Asian persimmons (Diospyrus kaki) are commercially grown. Hachiya is a common Asian variety. The Asian persimmon trees are hardy only in warm climates (Zone 7 and above).
• There are 475 species of trees and shrubs in the genus Diospyrus, and they are found worldwide.
Where to buy
• Miller Nurseries, Canandaigua, NY, 800-836-9630, www.millernurseries.com
• Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery, Upton, KY, 270-369-8551, www.nolinnursery.com
• Raintree Nursery, Morton, WA, 360-496-6400, www.raintreenursery.com
(Photo of Diospyros virginiana courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)