My father, Gordon Schronce, has become Gordon Persimmontree.
Allow me to explain. Remember Johnny Appleseed? The American folk hero who traveled the frontier sowing apples, tending to apple trees and encouraging settlers to plant apples? Well, my father has become the impetus for numerous neighbors and acquaintances to plant oriental persimmons. Strangers are stopping at my parents’ house to ask about that unusual tree next to the house. “Is it an orange or an apple?” “It is an oriental persimmon,” Gordon will reply and begin to tell the inquirers about its virtues like an evangelist laying out the plan of salvation.
It all started with two persimmon trees - one ‘Sheng’ and one ‘Fuygaki’ - I gave my parents about 10 years ago. I had become fond of the fruit and thought they would enjoy it, too.
Within a few years the two varieties were bearing. ‘Sheng’ is astringent like our American persimmon; its fruits are not edible until they are almost jelly soft. Bite into one too early and your entire mouth will pucker. ‘Fuyugaki’ is a non-astringent variety; its fruits can be eaten while still hard like an apple without any puckering whatsoever, although I think they are best when they are allowed to soften a little.
There are numerous varieties of oriental persimmons, some astringent and some not. I favor the non-astringent ones. Both non-astringent and astringent oriental varieties are larger than the American persimmon and superior in flavor and texture. Both types can be harvested when fully colored and allowed to ripen off the tree, and both types are equally good for making persimmon pudding.
Besides the size and flavor, oriental persimmons have an advantage over many other fruit trees such as peaches and apples. They are not bothered by pests or diseases and don’t require another tree nearby for cross-pollination. “You have to spray apples constantly and still run the risk of worms,” Gordon will explain. “I have never had to spray.” Few fruits besides figs or pawpaws are as trouble free.
And they are attractive. The orange fruits hang on the trees like Christmas ornaments in the fall. “I wish you could see the trees now," Daddy says over the phone. "They are hanging in clusters.”
The ‘Sheng’ is now about 15 feet tall and bore 269 fruits this year. The ‘Fuyugaki’ is six feet tall and bore 201 fruits. My parents have sent me packages of both this fall. Another quality of the persimmons is that they ship well.
‘Fuyugaki’ (sometimes simply called ‘Fuyu’) is the most popular of the oriental persimmons (which are also sometimes called Japanese persimmons). Other popular varieties include ‘Jiro,’ ‘Eureka,’ ‘Tanenashi,’ ‘Ichi Ki Kei Jiro,’ ‘Saijo,’ ‘Great Wall,’ ‘Hachiya,’ ‘Kyungsun Ban-Si,’ and ‘Sheng’ (which is supposed to be one of the most cold hardy.)
Daddy hasn’t ventured into the frontier, although he has spread the news of oriental persimmons to the far western end of the county when he gave a lecture about growing peanuts to schoolchildren. (He is also known as “The Peanut Man” in the Lincoln County, North Carolina, school system, and Mama is “Mrs. Peanut.”) Several teachers approached him afterward about where to buy the trees.
Many oriental persimmons are sold bare-root although some nurseries do sell them in containers. The bare-root ones are shipped in late winter while the trees are still dormant. Gordon says get your orders in soon.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.