By Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Shelley Swenson, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
October is a month to enjoy. The weather is cooling, many native wildflowers are putting on a brilliant display of color and most gardeners have their autumn crops in the ground and growing.
Some crops, such as tomatoes and green onions, are already delivering. A few, like sweet peppers, are continuing to produce prolifically into their sixth month.
Local Satsuma trees are loaded with green orbs and many branches are drooping with anticipation of the sweet and easy to peel fruit which will ripen in about six to eight weeks. Another delightful fruit from the east is ready for picking and eating today.
The Japanese persimmon is a species related to native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), but originated in China and Japan. This tree from east Asia is capable of growing to about 30 feet at maturity.
This is an excellent tree for fruit production and ornamental use as a specimen in the home landscape. Unlike other fruit trees native to those northern latitudes, the persimmon has very limited chill hour requirements and fruits well here.
The tree is quite a striking sight when leaves have fallen in autumn, displaying the bright yellow-orange fruit throughout the canopy. The distinct appearance cannot be confused with any other fruit tree in the area.
Similar to the native persimmon, its preference is for a moist, well-drained soil in full sun locations. The tree has good drought tolerance and will flourish in most Wakulla County soils.
The Japanese persimmon develops an attractive fall color much like Florida maples. The circular canopy and open branches make a distinct contrast to many other trees in the landscape or orchard.
The placement of the tree can be problematic because the two to four inch diameter fruit can be a big mess when they fall from the tree. A good alternative is to pick the fruit off the tree when it is mature, but not quite ripe.
Much like tomatoes and bananas, persimmons will ripen off the tree if they have been picked mature green. They should be left at room temperature, but not refrigerated or placed in direct sunlight.
The ripe fruit is very sweet and juicy. The flavor is unique and the fruit’s texture is similar to an overripe banana, but more moist.
The example in the UF/IFAS demonstration orchard is a fuyu cultivar and is about 15 years old. They produce light orange persimmons when the fruit is mature and soften when ripe with a yield of about ten bushels per tree.
Some sources indicate they may be consumed when mature, but not quite ripe. At that stage they are dryer and may have a hint of astringency.
While not the best selection as a street or parking lot tree, the Japanese persimmon is an excellent selection in an ornamental landscape or in a dooryard orchard.
If the tree is primarily an ornamental, locate it in a loose, low-growing groundcover so dropping fruit will be hidden from view in the foliage of the groundcover.
To learn more about growing persimmons in Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County website at http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu or call 850-926-3931 or Click here