Foraged Gardening

Japanese vs American persimmons: growing, foraging, eating

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Find out how to grow or forage American persimmons and grow Japanese persimmons (the larger-fruited cousin of American persimmons) — plus important differences between the two species. Persimmons are a fairly easy-to-grow fruit tree that’s ideal for gardens, edible landscapes, food forests, and market farmers alike.            

My parents sometimes reflect in amazement that I made it through childhood without a single broken bone. Be assured it wasn’t for lack of effort. 

They encouraged my and my brother’s foraging adventures, which helped in our physical and emotional development. We got exercise, lessons in teamwork, ecological education, and (occasionally) important lessons in pushing our physical risk tolerance to its limits. 

Growing up in South Carolina, there was always a wild persimmon tree somewhere within walking distance — and wild American persimmons were my favorite fall fruit.

A bowl of soft, perfectly ripened American persimmons.

A bowl of soft, perfectly ripened American persimmons.

Each fall, I’d scurry up nearby American persimmon trees faster than a squirrel, shaking each branch so the ripe fruit could fall to the ground for collecting. One day, while out for a solo persimmon foraging adventure at our family lake house, I decided I could go just a little farther up a persimmon tree to get some additional fruit to shake loose…  

My memory is still a little hazy, but I remember hearing the sharp snap of the branch I’d chosen as my foot anchor. Seconds later, I crashed chest-first to the ground in a rain of branches, twigs, and ripe persimmons. It was the first time I’d ever had the breath knocked out of me, and I was pretty sure I was going to die. 

By the time I made it home, I’d fully recovered my ability to breathe but had some good scratches (and future scars) to memorialize my adventure. Of course, I went back and collected the fallen persimmons.

No broken bones, a basket of delicious fruit, and an important tree climbing lesson (always have a firm hand grip on a second branch before putting all your weight on a first branch). Victory.   

Introduction to American persimmons 

In case you’ve never seen or eaten them before, American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are pingpong ball-sized, deep orange-colored fruit (technically globular berries). American persimmon trees can be grown from Ag Zones 4-9 and are extremely cold-hardy, surviving down to -25°F.  

Diospyros virginiana map.png

Native range of American persimmon. Image courtesy: U.S. Geological Survey – Digital representation of “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. [1], Public Domain, Link

American persimmons were treasured by Native Americans and European settlers who lived in areas where the trees grow, predominantly in the southeast. You’ll probably never see them in a grocery store due to their short shelf life and mushy texture when fully ripened.

When are wild American persimmons ripe? 

The trickiest thing about American persimmons is figuring out when they’re ripe. And, no, American persimmons (ripe or unripe) are NOT poisonous.  

However, they generally (not always) taste terrible BEFORE a frost – so bitter and puckery they make it feel like your mouth is turning inside out. However, when fully ripened, American persimmons taste sweeter and more delicious than any candy, with hints of fruity caramel.  

This isn’t always the case though. Since there is so much genetic diversity between wild American persimmon trees, one tree might produce sweet delicious fruit before a frost, and another might not lose its bitter pucker (caused by tannins) until after a frost.

To a human mind striving for pattern detection, this variability can be maddening. The best course of action is to cultivate a knowledge of particular wild trees near you: in the forest near your house, on your favorite hiking trails, etc. 

A nice forest-to-table foraging harvest. Acorns for making acorn flour, tupelo fruit, wild muscadines and American persimmons. As you can see, some of the American persimmons are nearly mush at this point, which is actually when their flavor is best.

A nice forest-to-table foraging harvest. Acorns for making acorn flour, tupelo fruit, wild muscadines and American persimmons. As you can see, some of the American persimmons are nearly mush at this point, which is actually when their flavor is best.

American persimmon trees are very easy to identify in the fall since their orange fruit is quite conspicuous after the tree’s leaves have fallen. You’ll also see the ripe mushy fruit on the ground under the tree.

It shouldn’t take you much time to determine when the fruit on a particular persimmon tree is ripe: before or after a frost. Once you know, you can reliably go to the same tree year after year at the same time to enjoy nature’s bounty.  

Growing bred varieties of American persimmons

If you’d prefer to grow American persimmons rather than forage them, you’re in luck. Breeders have developed excellent American persimmon cultivars with large fruit and delicious flavor — some of which ripens before frost. 

Top-rated American persimmon cultivars (purchased as 2-3 year old grafted trees) include:

  • Early Golden (large fruited, early ripener)
  • Yates (large fruited, early ripener)
  • NC-10 
  • Geneva Red 
  • Prok 
  • Morris Burton 
  • Claypool 
  • Evelyn 
  • John Rick
  • Miller
  • Woolbright  
  • Ennis (a seedless variety, if you don’t care for seeds) 

You can also grow American persimmons via seed very inexpensively. However, buying and planting bred persimmon saplings means you’ll: a) get fruit sooner, and b) know you can expect excellent fruit quality.

It can take up to 9 years (from seed) to get your first ripe American persimmon fruit, so a 2-3 year old sapling gives you a head start. 

Two other American persimmon tree considerations:

1. Male persimmon tree 

If you don’t have wild American persimmon trees growing within flying distance of pollinators (a mile or so), it’s generally a good idea to plant a male persimmon tree nearby to guarantee good fruit production. You can also graft a branch of a male tree on to one of your female trees to accomplish the same aim without taking up additional space.

Some American persimmon cultivars have also been bred to be self-pollinating, so be mindful of these traits/needs when choosing varieties. 

2. Size

If buying cultivated persimmon varieties, make sure you pay attention to the size of the tree. Some American persimmon trees can grow gigantic — up to 80′ tall — although they might not accomplish this feat in your lifetime. Smaller/dwarf varieties make harvest easier. 

Japanese persimmons versus American persimmons 

“Japanese” persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is somewhat of a misnomer, since Diospyros kaki trees are also native to other areas of east Asia outside of Japan. That’s why Japanese persimmons are also commonly called Asian persimmons, oriental persimmons, or simply kaki fruit. 

Japanese persimmons from our front yard 'Fuyu' persimmon tree.

Japanese persimmons from our front yard ‘Fuyu’ persimmon tree.

I remember seeing my first Japanese persimmon in a grocery store when I was a kid. It seemed like something from a dream: a persimmon the size of a softball? There’s a 90% chance I wouldn’t have survived childhood if something so enticing had graced the native trees in our forests. 

My parents bought a few fruit and I also remember being disappointed in their flavor. It was good, but not great. Very sweet, but not nearly as rich or complex as the American persimmons I was accustomed to. 

Today I know that this lack of flavor isn’t true of ALL Japanese persimmon varieties — and the various stages of ripeness can also change the fruit’s flavor profile. 

Different cultivars of Japanese persimmon 

Japanese persimmons can broadly be broken into two categories based on their flavor:

  1. Astringent Japanese persimmons – Until perfectly ripened, astringent varieties have the same bitter-puckery quality of unripe American persimmons. Once the tannins break down due to ripening and cold weather, they offer exquisite, nuanced flavor on par with the best American persimmons.  
  2. Non-astringent Japanese persimmons – Non-astringent Japanese persimmons have been bred to have much lower tannin content. That means they don’t have a puckery flavor even before fully ripe. You can even eat some varieties (such as ‘Fuyu’) when they’re still crunchy, like an apple, so long as they’ve turned orange. The downside is that the flavor isn’t generally as rich or nuanced as astringent Japanese persimmons or American persimmons.   

The two Japanese persimmon varieties we have in our food forest are dwarf cultivars of ‘Fuyu‘ and ‘Ichi Ki Kei Jiro’. Each tree is only 10 years old.

Fuyu persimmons on the left atop Ichi Ki Kei Jiro persimmons on the lower layer on the right.

Fuyu persimmons on the left atop Ichi Ki Kei Jiro persimmons on the lower layer on the right.

Thus far, our Ichi persimmon seems to produce larger fruit, but our Fuyu seems to produce more fruit.  Our Fuyu has a more elegant, weeping growth habit whereas our Ichi has a more traditional upright growth habit. 

Both are excellent producers that feature large flavorful fruit. The flavor differences between the two are so subtle that we doubt most people could tell the difference in a blind taste test. 

We plan to add 1-2 astringent Japanese persimmon trees to our small food forest in years to come – one of them will likely be a ‘Hachiya’. 

Important differences: Japanese persimmons vs American persimmons 

If you’re trying to decide whether to grow Japanese or American persimmon trees (or both), there are some important differences between the two species to consider. 

Japanese persimmons vs American persimmons - side by side comparison

A deeper look at the differences between Japanese persimmons vs American persimmons from the above graphic: 

1. Cold hardiness

American persimmons are much more cold hardy than Japanese persimmons. If you live in a colder, northern climate region, you may only be able to grow American persimmons. 

  • American persimmons hardiness zones (Ag zones) 4-9 / Hardy down to -25°F
  • Japanese persimmons hardiness zones 6-9 / Hardy down to 10°F 

2. Years to fruit 

  • According to University of Kentucky Extension, American persimmon trees grown from seed can begin bearing fruit anywhere between year 4-9. If you purchase a grafted American persimmon sapling from a nursery, you may get your first fruit within 2-3 years. 
  • Japanese persimmons bear fruit in ~7 years from seed. Here also, a grafted sapling may bear fruit in 2-3 years.  

3. Mature tree size

American persimmon trees can grow much larger than Japanese persimmons, however there is wide variability in mature height between bred cultivars of both species. For gardeners/orchardists, it makes sense to get smaller varieties to make harvesting easier.

Our young (about 10 year old) dwarf Fuyu persimmon tree shortly after fruit set in June.

Our young (about 10 year old) dwarf Fuyu persimmon tree shortly after fruit set in June.

4. Yield (pound per tree) 

Japanese persimmon trees produce a higher yield per tree than American persimmons: 

  • Mature bred varieties of American persimmon trees can yield up to 100 pounds of fruit per year
  • A large mature Japanese persimmon tree can produce up to 550 pounds of fruit per year. (source: Purdue University Dept of Horticulture
Given the large size of individual Japanese persimmon fruit in addition to the quantity of fruit that each tree can produce, it's easy to see how they can produce such large yields.

Given the large size of individual Japanese persimmon fruit in addition to the quantity of fruit that each tree can produce, it’s easy to see how they can offer such large yields.

5. Fruit size 

Japanese persimmons are much larger than American persimmons. However, size isn’t everything – a perfectly ripe American persimmon tastes better than most Japanese persimmons, in my opinion. (The Tyrant disagrees, as she prefers Japanese persimmons.) 

  • American persimmons weigh about 1 ounce each.  
  • Japanese persimmons weigh about 6 ounces each. The average per fruit weight of our Fuyu persimmons is 5.96 ounces. The average per fruit weight of our Ichi Ki Kei Jiro is 6.56 ounces. 

*When you see a recipe that calls for “1 ripe Asian persimmon” and all you have is persimmon pulp, note that 1 ripe Asian persimmon makes approximately 1 cup of persimmon pulp.

A large Ichi Ki Kei Jiro Japanese persimmon, weighing in at 6.9 ounces.

A large Ichi Ki Kei Jiro Japanese persimmon, weighing in at 6.9 ounces.

6. Self-pollinating 

If you only have room for one tree, you’re probably better off getting a Japanese persimmon…

  • American persimmons typically are NOT self-pollinating, although some bred varieties are. If you buy a single bred American persimmon tree, it’s likely to be a female, which means pollination will require either: 1) a nearby wild persimmon, 2) a male tree planted nearby, 3) a branch from a male tree to be grafted on to your female tree.  
  • Japanese persimmons are often self-pollinating, although it’s suggested to have at least two trees to get increase fruit production. 
Japanese persimmon flowers start blooming in May. They're very attractive to the human eye and to pollinators alike.

Japanese persimmon flowers start blooming in May. They’re very attractive to the human eye and to pollinators alike.

Can American and Japanese persimmons cross-pollinate? Unfortunately not.

We’d love to cross our ‘Ichi’ Japanese persimmon with a wild American persimmon to create a ‘Scratchy’ cultivar, but we’ll have to find another way to bring that dream to reality.  

7. Lifespan 

8. Seeds 

  • American persimmons (with the exception of one seedless cultivar) are relatively large compared to Japanese persimmon seeds. Fruit does produce viable seeds that can be used to grow new persimmon trees, although the result may be hybrid crosses. 
  • Japanese persimmons produce very small seeds relative to the size of their fruit and relative to the seeds of American persimmons. Japanese persimmon seeds can also be grown, but they’re unlikely to grow true to the parent plant.  
Japanese persimmon seeds next to slices of Japanese persimmons. Each fruit may have a few such seeds inside, but they're very small relative to the size of the fruit.

Japanese persimmon seeds next to slices of Japanese persimmons. Each fruit may have a few such seeds inside, but they’re very small relative to the size of the fruit.

9. Pest and disease resistance 

Both Japanese and American persimmons are extremely pest and disease-resistant.

The only pests that we hear of bothering persimmons are squirrels and deer, who will eat the ripe fruit off the trees (or ground) in the fall. One reason you might consider harvesting your Japanese persimmons before they’re fully ripe on the tree is not to give your local critters an opportunity to eat them first.     

When do you pick Japanese persimmons for best flavor?  

Something we wondered about before we had experience: when do you pick Japanese persimmons for ideal flavor? We’ve read conflicting accounts on the internet, but now we have a chance to do small-scale experiments with fruit from our own trees. 

Flavor overload! Our Japanese persimmons start ripening in late summer at the same time as our potted guavas ripen. Sliced guava and Japanese persimmons make an amazing dessert.

Flavor overload! Our Japanese persimmons start ripening in late summer at the same time as our potted guavas ripen. Sliced guava and Japanese persimmons make an amazing dessert.

For instance, one thing we’ve read online is that Japanese persimmons taste best after a frost (true) but a deep freeze lower than about 25°F will ruin the fruit quality (not true). Here’s what we’ve found with fruit from our two Japanese persimmon cultivars (Fuyu and Ichi Ki Kei Jiro): 

  • Both taste very good once the fruit turns fully orange — even before a frost and even before they soften. 
  • Both taste BETTER after a frost and when they start to soften (sweeter, richer, and more flavorful).
  • Neither will soften on the tree immediately after a frost or a *light freeze. (*They will begin to soften and degrade in quality once temps start dipping into the low 20sF.) The quickest way to get them to soften is to remove them from the tree and store them indoors after a frost/freeze. For longer storage (weeks or months) store them at room temp. For faster softening, store them in your fridge, and they’ll start softening within a week. Or for immediate softening, put them in your freezer for one night, thaw them, and eat them within a day. 
  • This year, we’ve left an “experimental persimmon” on both our trees to see how the weather and time duration impacts the fruit texture. We’ve already had two nights where temps stayed below the mid-20s for most of the night. Neither fruit has significantly softened – even two weeks later. It seems that staying attached to the tree somehow moderates the sugar/water flow in such a way as to inhibit fruit freeze damage/ripening. Hopefully, no squirrels eat our experimental persimmons before we can conclude our experiment! 
One of our experimental persimmons after multiple frosts and two deep freezes into the low 20s. We're testing to see how long they can stay on the tree before they either fall off or diminish in quality to the point that they have to be harvested.

One of our experimental persimmons after multiple frosts and two deep freezes into the low 20s. We’re testing to see how long they can stay on the tree before they either fall off or diminish in quality to the point that they have to be harvested.

Japanese persimmon growing tip: lots of nutrition  

For the most part, you can grow, prune, and maintain Japanese persimmon trees like most other fruit trees. However, we discovered one important difference last year when we had almost all of our persimmon fruit drop late in the summer. 

Yes, it was scorching hot. Yes, there was another drought in effect. (Weird weather is the new normal.) However, persimmon trees are relatively drought-tolerant and we were irrigating our plants every 10-14 days, so lack of water didn’t seem to be the culprit. 

Another symptom: the leaves were starting to curl and yellow indicating a nutrient deficiency. All we’d done up to that point for nutrition was keep the ground heavily mulched (we didn’t have enough compost or worm castings to put any under our persimmons). 

Right before bud break this spring, The Tyrant decided she wasn’t going to risk losing fruit this year, so she bought organic fertilizer spikes for fruit trees. We put five spikes in a circle around each tree at the edges of the limb reach (to correspond with root reach) and crossed our fingers…

Despite another extreme late summer drought, our trees produced and held on to the vast majority of their fruit. 

Bottom line: Japanese persimmons require a substantial amount of nutrition in order to produce heavy yields of their large-sized fruit. If we’d had a bunch of worm castings or quality compost available, perhaps that would have been adequate, but fertilizer spikes were a good, affordable alternative. 

A large ripe 'Ichi Ki Kei Jiro' Japanese persimmon.

A large perfectly ripe ‘Ichi Ki Kei Jiro’ Japanese persimmon.

Ready to grow your own persimmons? 

Got all the information you need to forage or grow American persimmons? Ready to grow astringent or non-astringent persimmons in your garden, homestead, or farm? Hope so! 

Persimmons are one amazingly delicious and nutritious fruit and we’d love to see more trees around. Just be careful climbing up a native persimmon tree so you don’t end up crashing to the ground like kid me! 


Other persimmon articles you’ll love

What's the difference between American persimmons and Japanese persimmons? Here's a side-by-side comparison chart to help you figure out which tree species is best for your garden, food forest, orchard, or farm. (See full comparison in article!) #tyrantfarms #foraging #fallforaging #foodforest #permaculture #ediblelandscaping #americanpersimmon #japanesepersimmon

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  • Reply
    Kim Trimble
    January 14, 2024 at 8:18 pm

    Hello Aaron,

    I hope this forum is still open. I have something of the reverse issue from Sharon (above). I grew up in Indiana where every holiday table (and most birthdays’) included a persimmon pudding [You’re likely aware that the small town of Mitchell, Indiana holds an annual Persimmon Festival every fall, with the highlight of the festival being the persimmon pudding contest]. Now living in Southern California, I have access to a number of “Japanese” persimmons. I have used both Fuyu and Hachiya persimmon pulp to make this childhood dessert with little luck. While the puddings set and bake just fine, the come out much lighter in color and lack the distinctive complex flavor of puddings made with native persimmons. I was wondering whether you might have some thoughts on ways to modify the recipe for these easily available persimmons.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 17, 2024 at 1:03 pm

      Hi Kim! The best flavor complexity in Asian persimmons is going to come from astringent varieties, rather than non-astringent varieties. Fuyu is non-astringent; Hachiya is astringent. Hachiyas really need to be aged to softness and ideally experience some cold for their full flavor complexity to develop. Even then, they’re going to be quite different than our native American persimmons.

      The closest proximation to an American persimmon that we’ve ever had from an Asian persimmon is from making hoshigaki, which you can read about here: Finished hoshigaki is a dried fruit so it could be re-saturated in a liquid and made into pudding. Or you could cut the hoshigaki drying process way short and use the partially dried hoshigaki Asian persimmons to make a pudding.

      If all of that sounds like way too much work, then I’d instead just recommend adding spices and flavors to your Asian persimmon pudding. Vanilla, bourbon, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom… And to curb any disappointment, maybe instead of trying to make your finished pudding an exact replica of American persimmon pudding, recognize that these are different fruit species and no matter what you do, your Asian persimmon pudding is just going to taste different. So just try to come up with an ingredient combination that gets you something delicious, even if not the persimmon pudding you fell in love with in Indiana. Good luck!

      FYI: My mom grew up in Evansville, Indiana, and I spent my childhood eating wild American persimmons all over the eastern United States. Today, our family still loves foraging wild native persimmons but we grow Asian persimmons in our gardens. In my opinion, a perfectly ripened American persimmon is more delicious than any Asian persimmon I’ve ever had.

  • Reply
    November 8, 2021 at 3:04 am

    Hello and thank you for a great article!
    Just moved from Minnesota to south central Indiana (I’d never even heard of persimmons- I’m 52!) to a lovely little hobby farm. We found out that one of the trees next to the house is a very LARGE/tall persimmon tree. (Yay! I harvested/frozen about 15 cups for recipe experiments. So far persimmon pudding is my favorite)
    My point I’d love to plant more trees.
    However….1. I haven’t the foggiest on what type of persimmon tree it is. I believe it to be an American persimmon, but even then there are sub-species of those. My main question here is- how do I know if it’s a….. self fertilizing?…a tree that doesn’t need a pollinator…or not? We have a beautiful large lily tree about 50 feet away and then in another direction to we have woods – about 100 feet away. 2. How close would the male tree need to be to be a pollinator?
    Lastly, I’ve researched some on how to start from seedlings. In 3 of my batches, I saved about 20 seeds, put them in my refrigerator between two moistened paper towels in separate ziplocks. 3. Any good suggestions/reading you could point me to that would help guide me through the growing process?
    Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      November 8, 2021 at 5:36 pm

      Hi Theresa! If it’s a giant persimmon tree growing up in Indiana, it’s almost certainly an American persimmon, not an Asian persimmon. Asian persimmon trees don’t grow beyond Zone 6 and even that’s pushing it a bit.

      If your persimmon tree is bearing fruit and the fruit contains seeds, it’s almost certainly a female tree, although persimmon trees can be a bit unpredictable (there have been cases where trees change sex from year to year). Most likely, you’ve got a female persimmon tree and there’s at least one male American persimmon tree within pollinator flying distance (one mile or so, but less distance is better), otherwise you wouldn’t have fruit. That’s all good news for you from the standpoint of fruit production and future planting, unless a developer comes along and turns the forest/male persimmon tree habitat into a housing subdivision. If you’re buying trees, you could just get all females or self-fertile/parthenocarpic varieties since you’ve got the male tree/pollen covered (at least for now).

      If growing American persimmons from seed, you won’t know the sex of your trees until they start bearing flowers in 7 years or so. That approach requires both time and patience. Male flowers are smaller and grow in clusters. Female flowers are larger and grow individually.

      American persimmons are fairly easy to grow from seed. We take a lazy approach on cold-stratification:
      1. Plant the seeds about 1.5″ below soil surface of quality organic potting soil in deep 8″+ nursery pots to accommodate their taproots.
      2. Leave the pots outdoors over winter so the seeds cold-stratify.
      3. Seeds will germinate in spring. Plants will need regular water and occasional fertilizer their first year. (They tolerate part shade when they’re young.)
      4. Pot them up into larger pots when they go dormant in the fall.
      5. Keep them watered, fed, and alive during year 2 (in pots).
      6. Transplant into final in-ground location in beginning of year 3 before they break dormancy.

      There may be more detailed info on the web for growing American persimmons from seed, but that’s the basics. Hope this helps and best of luck!

  • Reply
    Sharon Garlick
    December 22, 2020 at 4:08 am

    We’ve enjoyed Fuyus from my friends tree in California. We eat them fresh and make persimmon nut bread. She came across a cookbook called Old-Fashioned Persimmon Recipes. True, the recipes are very old, and very many, but they are for the wild American variety. Do you know if they are interchangeable for cooking?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      December 22, 2020 at 11:59 am

      Great question, Sharon! We cook quite a bit of persimmon recipes with both American and Japanese persimmons. Generally, Japanese persimmons have a higher water content than American persimmons. This difference isn’t really noticeable for certain recipes where extra liquid is added (like ice cream) but for things like cakes and breads, you’ll notice a difference and may want to add in a bit of water or other liquid to compensate. Hope this helps and happy cooking with your persimmons!

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