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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

A Passion for Persimmons

Sep 30, 2011 11:36AM ● By Beth Davis

Prized in many parts of the world and considered Japan’s national fruit, persimmons belong to the genus diospyros—Greek for “divine fruit” or “fruit of the gods.” They are also a deceptive fruit. Persimmons classified as non-astringent can be eaten when they are as crisp as an apple. But anyone biting into a crisp astringent persimmon will find the moisture immediately wicked from their mouth. Astringent varieties should be allowed to ripen to complete softness; only then can their addictively sweet, spicy flavor be comfortably enjoyed.

Two species of persimmons are grown in the United States: the American and the Oriental. The native American produces a very small, seedy, astringent fruit. Although the fruit is not often marketed commercially, many Southwest Floridians remember this variety when they think of persimmon trees. However, it’s the Oriental persimmon that typically grows and thrives in our subtropical climate. The species originated in China and was first cultivated in Florida during the late 1800s. Local master gardener and nursery owner Frank DeNardis says the Oriental is an excellent choice for homeowners that want to add fruit trees to their landscape.

Charles R. Boning, author of Florida’s Best Fruiting Plants, notes that persimmon trees demand little attention and are relatively free of problems. They will grow in many different types of soil, but do best when planted in moderately to well-drained earth that receives full sun. For ideal growth, allow room for the tree to spread 15 to 20 feet.

Persimmons are deciduous trees that lose their leaves each winter and enter a dormant state. New leaves are then followed by flowers in the spring. Many cultivars are found in Florida (DeNardis grows about 10 types at his nursery in North Naples), but the most popular is the Fuyu, according to the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. The fruit of this non-astringent variety looks like a tomato, is as crisp as an apple and tastes somewhat like cantaloupe. Fruit thinning is usually necessary to ensure large fruit, prevent clustering and regulate crop loads.

A high-quality astringent variety that is well-suited to the area is the Triumph, bearing fruit with a mild, sweet and pleasant flavor. It’s easy to be fooled into sampling an astringent persimmon before it is ripe, because the fruit turns orange and looks ready to eat long before it becomes completely soft to the touch. Although the mellow flavor of non-astringent varieties can be enjoyed when the fruit is still crisp, some people prefer astringent persimmons, which are said to be sweeter, richer and juicier. No matter which variety is favored, DeNardis says they are all superb eating.

Persimmon fruits vary in weight from a few ounces to nearly a pound, and range in size from an inch to four inches in diameter. Their shape varies, too, depending upon the cultivar, and their color may be yellow, orange or bright red. DeNardis notes that not all varieties reliably produce fruit, so it’s important to check with a local nursery or garden center before purchasing a tree.

Enjoy this “fruit of the gods” often—the golden-orange orbs are high in fiber, vitamins A and C and also contain the antioxidants lycopene and lutein. Most people eat persimmons fresh, but they can be dried for a tasty treat. Persimmon slices add flavor and nutrition to salads, smoothies or yogurt, and ripe astringent varieties can even be frozen whole and savored like frozen custard.

For more information or to make an appointment to visit Frank DeNardis’ nursery, located at 108 Viking Way, in Palm River Estates, in Naples, call 239-597-8359.

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