What is this little orange-colored fruit that is growing alongside the road? This is a question that I get very often this time of the year. Usually, the question comes after someone tried one of these fruits and either liked it or thought it tasted horrible.
The fruit in question is the persimmon. Persimmons are good to eat, but they have to be fully ripe before you can enjoy them.
I learned this lesson at an early age. We had a persimmon tree behind our house, with the fruit on it every year. It only took biting into an unripe persimmon once to learn that I didn't want to do that again.
Ripe persimmons are soft to the touch and have a sweet flavor. However, if they are not ripe they have a pungent flavor and are very astringent. A green persimmon will dry up all the saliva in your mouth.
There is a misconception that frost is required before persimmons are edible. This is incorrect and, in fact, frost will ruin immature fruit on a tree.
There are two main types of persimmons that can be grown in our area. The first is the native persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. The native persimmon is very hardy and can survive temperatures below zero without any harm. Our native persimmons can grow in just about any soil type, although they don't do as well in soils that are too wet. Our native persimmons will grow to a height of 30 to 40 feet.
In order to start young trees, they must be fertilized with a complete fertilizer. As trees mature, fertilize them less. Too much nitrogen can cause fruit drop, or during drought, can harm the tree.
Most of the common persimmons come up from seeds, but there are some named varieties on the market. Check with nurseries that produce fruit trees to see if they stock these plants. Some of the better varieties of native persimmons are Even Golden, John Rick, Woolbright, Miller and Killen. These varieties produce fruit with good flavor and firm flesh.
To get fruit from native persimmons, you need both a male and female tree. Native persimmons are dioecious -- that is, trees produce male or female flowers only. Most of the named varieties should be female, and the nurseries should have male trees to go with them. However, there are plenty of male persimmon trees in the area to provide pollen.
The other type of persimmon that we can grow in our area is the oriental persimmon, Diospyros kaki. Oriental persimmons were introduced into the United States less than a century ago. Like our native persimmons, oriental persimmons can grow in a wide range of soils. However, they are not as cold-tolerant as our native persimmons.
Oriental persimmon varieties come in two forms: one that produces astringent fruit and one that produces non-astringent fruit. The fruit of the oriental persimmons are about the size of a peach, and they can be flat or round.
Persimmons continue to ripen after they are picked. The astringent varieties must be allowed to become fully soft before they can be eaten. However, the non-astringent types can be eaten green, when firm, or they can be allowed to fully ripen. The green, non-astringent types can be eaten like an apple and have a good flavor. The non-astringent varieties that we recommend planting are Hana Fuyu, Fuyu and Ichikikei Jiro. The astringent varieties are Eureka, Tanenashi, Tamopan, Great Wall and Sheng.
In oriental persimmons, female, male and/or perfect flowers can be produced on the same tree. In addition, many oriental persimmons can produce fruit from unfertilized flowers. You will get more fruit production if you have two or more trees for pollination. Fuyu is one variety that will pollinate all of the other varieties.
Both native and oriental persimmons are fairly free of insects and diseases. The major pest problem is borers. They attack the trunks of stressed trees. The other insect problem is caterpillars, such as fall webworm. These can defoliate the trees, but this occurs in late summer, which causes less stress on the tree.
Persimmons can make interesting trees in your garden and provide you with an unusual fruit that you can enjoy.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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