Some of my Master Gardener peers have expressed a love of persimmon and enthusiastically look forward to this time of year specifically for the enjoyment of being sated with Persimmon Pudding. Persimmon fruit has a round or oval appearance. The color is usually orange and may progressively darken to black as it ripens. Our persimmons grow to about 2 inches in diameter but size can also vary. Depending on your own taste preferences, you may find this fruit to be a specific sweet flavorful taste or you may find it to be bitter and “pucker-able”. If picked too early from your tree, it most definitely will make your mouth pucker. Myself, I find them to have a sweet taste that is unique only to a persimmon. The best time to harvest is when your fruit has a dull orange color and nearly ready to fall from the tree and if you are timely, some can even be harvested after they fall from the tree. Some folklore suggests frost is required for persimmons to be edible. We have not found that to be substantiated. Our persimmons, this year have ripened, been made into pudding, and are finished for the season.
The American Persimmon tree is native to Indiana and could be a colorful addition to your garden or orchard area. Keep in mind when choosing a site, this tree will drop fruit. This tree is a small hardy tree that can reach a height of 40 – 50 feet, two feet wide, and tolerate temperatures as low as 20 – 25 degrees below zero. As you stand back and look at a mature persimmon tree, it will have a broad round top with a divided trunk. The limbs branch out and tend to have a downward bend appearance. The leaves range in size from 3 to 6 inches and are oval with a tapered tip. The upper and lower sides of the leaves are different. The upper side is dark green and shiny. The lower side is lighter green with a fine hair feel. Because America Persimmon trees are deciduous, the leaves will fall annually. The leaf color is one of the more impressive for the Indiana fall natural pallet. These leaves can be many colors – red, pink, yellow, or purplish.
American Persimmon trees will need two trees to produce fruit, a male and a female. A male tree can be identified as having a cluster of smaller flowers and the female has one larger flower and bears the fruit. Both are known to open on old wood and on separate trees. They will need to be planted within about 50 feet of one another for successful pollination. Should you be really ambitious and want to start your tree from seed, this is a good tree for this type of propagating method. One recommendation for good seed germination is 60 to 90 days at 50 degrees F with moist conditions. Another acceptable recommendation is for the seed to be planted in the fall directly into the soil, mulched, and allow to winter over in the ground. These trees are fairly maintenance free. They do not require fertilization or pruning. Depending on location of your tree, pruning may be desired to keep it at a specific size and be able to tend branch damage.
My favorite part of the American Persimmon tree is the bark. It is most unusual and once known easily identifiable in nature. The trunk on a mature tree has a blackish gray color with deeply furrowed scales that have a flat top. They look like little dark gray rectangles stacked up and down the trunk. But, the branches of the tree are grayish brown and smooth. If you are one who has an interest in learning how to identify trees by their bark, the American Persimmon tree would be a good starter bark to learn.
As what often happens, native plants are impacted by hybridization and other modifications. And the persimmon tree is one that now has several hybrids and are available commercially. An Oriental Persimmon tree is available for purchase, but is NOT native to Indiana and has not adapted well to Indiana conditions. As you begin shopping for persimmon trees, consider shopping for those plants that are native to Indiana and will not introduce a negative impact on Indiana plant-life.
I have one other folklore fun fact to share with you. This folklore fact may be my most favorite of all folklore facts. It relates to predicting the upcoming winter. Similar to the fuzzy brown caterpillar folklore, this folklore predicts our frozen future. Persimmon tree, I did not mention earlier, fruit may contain many seeds. Some fruit has three seeds, some have four, and some many more. The seed is shaped a little like an almond: flat, and less than an inch in length. As you examine the seed, you will see the appearance of two halves being connected. Split the seed length wise and see the inside. This is how you will determine the winter season. If you see a fork image, a light powdery snow is predicted. If you see a spoon image, a heavy snow is predicted. If you see a knife, a bitter cold winter is predicted. There is no science behind this, but it does add to my fun in getting ready for winter.