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Plant Profile: American persimmon

Native tree with fall fruits – perfect for the edible forest garden

Scattered throughout the North American woodlands are the sweet hidden treasures of native fruit trees waiting to be discovered. Among these trees is the American persimmon. Their range stretches from Connecticut to Florida and westward to Kansas, though the greatest abundance of trees is found in the Mississippi River Valley.

American persimmon has been used since early history by Native Americans, who commonly mixed the fruit’s pulp with cornmeal and ground acorn to make bread and soup, and dried the fruits which served as valuable nutritious food source in the winter. In fact, the name persimmon is a word derived from the Algonquin dialects of the Delaware and Cree nations: putchamin, pasiminan, and pessamin, which all mean dried fruit. Throughout history Americans have valued the persimmon as an easily accessible and nutritious fruit. Persimmon fruits were used by early African Americans to make sweets such as pudding, candy and cake. The seeds were roasted to make a coffee-like beverage by early settlers. In Appalachia, people brewed beer from the dried seeds.

Am persimmon tree

American persimmon trees can grow up to 50 feet tall, are very lovely for landscaped home gardens and are one of the best choices for an edible forest garden. American persimmon is very low maintenance and adaptable, growing well in poor, sandy, acid soils and in full sun to part shade. However, for best growth and fruit production, choose moist, well-drained loamy soils in sunny spots. American persimmons also are generally pest- and disease-free.

Pollination can be a bit tricky, so to ensure fruits you need to plant both male and female. The best time to plant bare root trees is early spring, and it is important to dig a deep hole for American persimmons as they have long taproots. Generally it takes four to nine years to produce fruit for a tree planted by seed, and three years for a grafted tree to produce. At full production, mature trees can yield 35-75 pounds of fresh fruit per tree.

Bowl of PersimmonsAmerican persimmons have fragrant pale yellow blossoms in the summer, while the time to experience their sweet, creamy fruit is now – autumn. The fruits ripen to a burnt orange and drop from the trees, just as the autumn leaves of trees are falling. In fact, the fruits will still hang on the trees through winter, long after the leaves have dropped. It is fitting that its scientific name Diospyros virginiana roughly translates to “food of the gods from Virginia,” as the plum-sized fruits are sweet and creamy when ripe, tasting a bit like dates, plums and honey. American persimmon fruits surpass the Asian persimmon varieties in richness. The fruit is high in vitamin C, iron and calcium and also contains the digestive enzymes papain and bromelaine (present in pineapple and papaya).

 

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