Originating in Central China, the Asian species of persimmon, Diospyros kaki, was introduced to Japan 1,300 years ago. Centuries later, in the 1870s, trees were brought to California by Commodore Matthew Perry.
Today, persimmons are still grown in the Golden State, along with both Florida and Texas. Trees flourish best in areas with dry summers and mild winters.
Part of the Ebenaceae family, persimmon trees are as valued for their sweet fruit as well as the hardwood of the tree itself. American or common persimmon trees, also called possumwood or Florida persimmons, are smaller than their Asian counterparts, growing to the size of a plum.
Asian varieties have green leaves with fruit color ranging from red to orange to yellow, while American persimmon leaves will fade from a dark green to lighter shades with yellow to pale orange fruit.
Types & Varieties
Persimmon cultivars are determined by astringency. Astringent cultivars typically become edible only after ripening fully and turning soft and sweet; nonastringent cultivars can be eaten right after picking.
Variables that affect astringency include pollination and ethanol levels in the seeds. While all cultivars of the American persimmon fall into the astringent category, the Asian persimmon has both astringent and nonastringent varieties.
In China, over 2,000 cultivars of Diospyros kaki exist, with fifty-two of these introduced to the United States initially. Popular nonastringent cultivars include Fuyu (favored in Florida), Gosho, Jiro (the most commonly-produced overall), and Suruga; astringent cultivars include Aizumishirazu, Hachiya (the most popular), Hiratanenashi, Yokono, and Yotsumizo.
While primarily native to the southeastern portion of the United States, persimmons are also grown as far west as California. Popular cultivars of the American persimmon include C-100, Claypool, Dollywood, Early Golden, I-115, John Rick, Killen, and Prok.
For growers seeking persimmons with few imperfections in the pulp, C-100 Early Golden, John Rick, and Killen, along with cultivars Meader and Morris Burton, are suggested cultivars.