Diospyros kaki, persimmon or Japanese persimmon (to distinguish it from the native North American persimmon, D. virginiana), and also known as kaki, keg fig, or date plum, is a medium-sized fruit tree in the Ebenaceae (ebony family) that originated in east Asia and has been cultivated in Japan and China, with numerous varieties developed, for many centuries. It is now grown in various parts of Asia as well as the in the Mediterranean, South America, and the southern U.S. and Hawaii for its edible fruit.
D. kaki, which is found only in cultivation, was developed from the wild species D. roburghii. When planted for commercial cultivation, it is often grafted onto rootstock from the hardy and tolerant D. lotus. The tree may reach heights up to 12 to 18 m (40 to 60 ft). Leaves are alternate, ovate to obovate, up to 17.5 cm (7 in) long. The species is generally monoecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants, but some individuals are dioecious (with both male and female flowers on the same tree). The 4-parted yellowish-white flowers are small (2 cm long); male flowers, which are generally in clusters of 3, have 16 to 24 stamens, while the solitary female flowers have 8 staminodes (sterile stamens, absent the anthers and pollen). Some varieties require pollination for fruit development, while others will develop seedless fruit without pollination. Fruits are round to conical to almost square, usually around 7.5 cm (3 in) in diameter, but the “Fuyu” variety may produce fruits as large as a softball.
Numerous cultivars vary widely in the size, shape, color and flavor of the fruit. Fruit ripens to yellow, yellowish orange, deep orange or reddish orange, with similar variations in flesh color. Although the name “Diospyros” translates roughly to “divine fruit,” anyone who has eaten a persimmon before it is ripe might wonder why, as the skin and flesh contain tannins that can make them so astringent as to be inedible. Among the various cultivars, astringent varieties need to be fully soft (even mushy) and ripe before they are eaten (they remain on trees after leaves fall, and are often harvested after frost), while non-astringent varieties, which are sweeter, may be harvested and eaten while still somewhat crisp.
Persimmons, which are high in vitamins A and C and potassium, are generally eaten as a fresh fruit, but may also be processed into ice creams or jams. In China, Israel, and California, the fruits are sometimes dried and eaten as a high-energy snack. Surplus fruits may be made into molasses, cider, or wine.
Japanese persimmons are a specialty crop cultivated in just a few states in the U.S., primarily California but also in others, including Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Hawaii, although production has been increasing since the 1980s, due to growing demand from Asian markets in large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles. However, U.S. production is only a fraction of the total commercial production of Japanese persimmons worldwide, which was 4.1 million metric tons (mt) in 2010. China alone produced nearly 75% of the total. Other leading producers included Korea, Japan, Brazil, Azerbaijan and Italy.
(Bailey et al. 1976, Collins et al. 2012, Ecocrop 2012, FAOSTAT 2012, Flora of China 2012, Morton 1987, van Wyk 2005, Virginia Tech 2012.)
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