I like apples as much as the next person. You can hardly ask for a more universally liked fruit. The same can be said for peaches, surely. But in the humid South, these more common fruits can be some of the more difficult fruit trees to grow.

They are hosts to a myriad of fungal and bacterial diseases, not to mention tons of pest insects. Often I talk to new gardeners who bought trees without knowing about spray schedules and pest identification, only to be welcomed with all manner of rots, bugs, lesions, you name it. Ultimately many of these people decide they have a brown thumb and are discouraged from gardening altogether. I’m here to tell you there are easier things to grow that are equally, if not more, satisfying. One such fruit that is often misunderstood is the persimmon.

Persimmons are the fruit of many different species of trees in the Diospyros genus. While there are many species grown, the main three you will find in Texas are D. kaki, D. virginiana, and D. texana. D. kaki are commonly called Asian persimmons, while D. virginiana is the American persimmon, and D. texana is the Texas persimmon.

One of the most common things I hear from people about persimmons is they tried one and it was so bitter that it was inedible. That is certainly true of most varieties of unripe persimmons, but a perfectly ripe persimmon has no bitterness whatsoever. Many people also think persimmons should not be eaten until they freeze. But be assured, even without freezing, the ripe fruit is fantastic.

Persimmons fit into different categories. There are non-astringent types that can be eaten without bitterness even when slightly under ripe and crisp like an apple. Then there are astringent types, which remain bitter until they are completely ripe. And then there are pollination variant non-astringent types, which are sweet when crisp only if they were pollinated with another variety of persimmon - Coffeecake persimmon, for example.

The American persimmon is a Texas native, growing wild with an extensive range throughout much of the American Southeast. There was a time when most everyone was familiar with these fruits, and kids and animals alike would relish them. The ripe fruits are incredibly sweet - sweet enough to be compared to dates by many. One of my favorite things about them is that, being native, they are astonishingly easy to grow. While many landowners will be familiar with the wild selections, there are a number of superior varieties selected for larger fruit, early ripening, self-fertility and superior hardiness.

The Asian persimmons are strangely better known than the native persimmons. These persimmons are increasingly being offered in grocery stores nationwide, and are a great introduction into persimmons. While there are many varieties of Asian persimmon, only two are usually available at groceries - Hachiya and Fuyu. Hachiya is heart-shaped, and the larger of the two, while Fuyu looks like a squat orange tomato. I always encourage people to try the Fuyu first because it is non-astringent and there is no chance of bitterness. The Hachiya is an astringent type and is often not picked ripe for grocery stores. If you like these, there is a whole world of persimmons out there. To me, a ripe persimmon tastes like honey and sunshine.

Last but not least, my personal favorite is the Texas persimmon. Native to Southwest Texas, these beautiful trees can be found on roadsides and landscapes. They do exceptionally well in the more arid conditions in Southwest Texas, so I wouldn’t advise trying to grow them here. But if you ever get the chance to taste their fruit, do it. When ripe, the fruit is jet black through and through, and about the size of a half dollar. They make the most spectacular black preserves and deserve more attention from Texans everywhere.

I hope you’ll branch out, and next time you want to plant a fruit tree, consider a persimmon. They make wonderful ornamental trees. Fruit sometimes hangs on the tree into winter like round, orange ornaments.

And they require much less care than other more common fruits.

Kyle Tengler is the Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

 
 

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