Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 02, 2012, 11:31 AM

Title: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 02, 2012, 11:31 AM
This is a slightly revised version of a post I wrote on another forum, so if you have read it over there, you don't have to read it here. I'm doing this because I like this forum, even if the image posting is not as easy (for me) as using the html links to photos on my server, that I use other places.

part 1

Thanksgiving was at my sister's house this year. Pomona, IL, her home is 14 miles from a numbered highway, south of Murphysboro, IL in the Shawnee National Forest. Way out in the woods as far as this Chicago born urbanite is concerned. I remembered the last night I was there to collect some 'simmons to eat on the way home and to save seed from. Time to start a batch for bonsai. And I took some pictures. Sorry about the twilight, but I forgot to shoot pictures earlier in the day.

About 8 years ago I planted an American persimmon seedling in her front yard, it came from fruit from the approximately 50 or more year old tree that is in a hedgerow down the road. The 8 year old started bearing fruit last year, this year it is still sparse but getting better.

This year the weather was perfect for picking American Persimmons, the fruit had been frosted several times, and the weather was dry enough it had not molded. Many trees still had lots of fruit hanging, some years it is all on the ground by Thanksgiving. Very tasty. Sweet, aromatic, redolent with a spice that is hard to describe, almost cinnamon, but not. Allspice? At any rate, it is a wonderful fruit. Most likely it will never become a commercial fruit. I did discover why. Harvest 20 off one tree, 19 with be as sweet as can be, and then that one, from the same tree, will be so astringent your mouth just dries out and you loose all interest in food for an hour or so. But the astringency does increase your thirst for beer, so a good time was had by all.

As potential bonsai, the wood is reported to be very hard, which means once wired, it will hold a shape. Diospyros is the genus that includes Ebony. It develops a really nice bark, the 8 year old seedling was beginning to get the checked alligator pattern. The bark is extremely hard, it won't flake off easy, making repotting easier. They seem to be forest edge and hedgerow trees. So part shade would be best. They are summer heat tolerant and winter hardy through zone 5.

First image is the bark of 50 year old D. virginiana, American Persimmon

Second image is the bark of an 8 year old seedling.
Title: American Persimmon Photos from the field Part 2
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 02, 2012, 11:35 AM
Branch structure is not that different than Kaki, like D. kaki it is open, with coarse twigs. I believe in bonsai training the twigs will become fairly fine. Of course the fruit will be one of the focal points, it is not that large. Most fruit are less than 2 inches in diameter. They start out green, ripen to orange, and only become edible after after they are soft ripe when they are wrinkled and begin turning brown. If the weather is dry, they keep on the tree in the soft ripe state and don't fall until after several frosts. Wikipaedia says the just need to get soft ripe to loose the astringency. I since I don't usually get to persimmon country until after first frost I would not know. Key is, if they are not ripe, they have a striking astringency that is impressive. Its not harmful, just makes your mouth pucker and dry out. Beer is the only cure!

1st - Branch of 50+ year old persimmon
2nd - branch of 8 year old tree
Title: American Persimmon Photos from the field Part 3
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 02, 2012, 11:39 AM
The natural growth habit of persimmon is a single trunk when growing as a forest understory tree, or a clump style when growing in a hedgerow or more open location. The 8 year old tree has branched low to form 3 trunks, and the 50 year old hedgerow tree is also 3 trunks. It is a shape that looks good with these trees.

1st - The 3 trunks of the 8 year old tree - with my bro-in-law's rough pruning off of lower branches. Likely getting hit by the weed whacker helped to induce the formation of a clump, I know who mows the lawn.

2nd-The silhouette of the 50 plus year old tree, with the moon in the background. (and my sister's pole barn) Notice the three trunks, one slightly dominant over the other two. Again, either browsing bovines, or deer or the tractor with the brush hog likely encouraged the formation of multiple trunks. Most of the larger forest specimens are single trunked, a photo is below.
Title: American Persimmon Photos from the field Part 4
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 02, 2012, 11:48 AM
This is a special tree, possibly a candidate for the tallest American Persimmon on record. This is a single trunk persimmon, Just down the trail from the parking lot for the Natural Bridge of the Shawnee forest. This area was last logged in the 1930's, so this tree is likely approaching 100 years old. Possibly older if it was not one of the tree types the loggers wanted in those days. Down the hill there are a couple patches of true old growth forest in between the sandstone bluffs. This persimmon is as tall as the surrounding canopy trees, so it is at least 75 feet or more tall, maybe more. There is some fruit still hanging but it is hard to see at this distance. You can tell this tree grew in the forest, it has a beautiful vase shape. Most younger forest trees I have seen have a single trunk, rather than this vase shape, but this tree was exceptionally tall, which implies it is very much older that most of the trees I've seen. The vase branches don't start until quite high up the trunk, first branch is more than 20 feet off the ground. An impressive tree when you realize most think of persimmons as being not much bigger than a semi-dwarf apple tree. And the books say the American Persimmon is a shrubby tree. Obviously this tree never read the books.
Title: Re: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: Minogame on December 02, 2012, 11:53 AM
Ah... Persimmon pudding. It's the best! I've only had it once since moving from the mid-west. There is one large fruiting tree in a city park in Seattle, but i rarely get there before the "sweet mess" is cleaned up. I also remember seeing the tree in Boise with large plates of bark.
Title: American Persimmon Photos from the field Part 5
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 02, 2012, 11:55 AM
As I type I'm still munching on the last of the persimmons I brought home. Saving the seeds. Really nice flavor, very sweet, and nice light spicy note. Maybe like a spiced pear, with a soft texture. Some will complain they are mushy, but hey, I like bananas and I like apples.

If you are lucky enough to have a local source for yourself, the seed must not be dried out. One needs to remove the pulp, I prefer the "eat 'em up, yum" method, wrap the seeds in a damp paper towel, put it into a plastic bag and into the refrigerator for at least 8 weeks, I leave them in the 'fridge until it is warm enough to plant them out in spring. If they dry out the embryo will die. Or you can plant them in a pot, put the pot out with your cold hardy bonsai and just keep the pot damp for the winter. They must have at least 8 to 12 weeks below 40 F to sprout, a damp stratification. I have never noticed a male persimmon tree, but without fruit they are unlikely to grab my attention. Wikipedia says the trees are either male or female. So if you are raising seedlings, always raise several, a good number is at least 6. Then the probability will be fairly high you have one of each. The female flowers can set fruit without being pollinated, and these fruits will be seedless. But fruit set will be much heavier if you have a male tree near by.

I wish I had taken better care of the batch of seedlings I started 8 years ago, I don't have any left in pots. The survivors all got planted in one relative or another's back yards. So today I am setting up another batch of seed, hopefully a few will eventually become bonsai. So I write this to encourage others to give the american persimmon a try. The bark really is quite nice. I haven't seen any Princess persimmons with anything other than smooth bark, but I haven't seen any older Princess persimmons. The fact that the bark starts to form before the tree is 10 years old may make this a superior species to use. Also American Persimmon is fully hardy to zone 5, and perhaps with some protection into zone 4. Most growers in the lower 48 states could raise this tree without having to do much to protect it in winter beyond getting it out of the sun and wind. Put it under the back yard bench. Drop a tarp over 3 sides and you are good. It probably needs some winter rest, but for southern Florida, and southern Texas there is a different species of Diospyros that takes over.

So try your hand at Diospyros virginiana if you get the chance. I really feel this is an underutilized species that deserves more attention. And if I get away from the computer tonight, I will do my part to help make some more seedlings available.

Oh, there are commercial sources, actually quite a few. Here are some:

places to buy young seedlings (I have no connection to these places) ( ( (

place to buy grafted cultivars selected for fruit quality (
I have purchased from Nolin River Nursery in the past, and was quite happy with them. They have many selected nut cultivars, Pecan, Walnut, Hickory, and Pawpaws too.

Leo Schordje

Title: persimmon bonsai culture tips
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 02, 2012, 12:01 PM
If anyone has experience with American persimmon, please share.

I was wondering, does the Japanese Princess Persimmon develop a rough bark like the American one?

The leaves are big, but I think they reduce some, and the best displays of these trees would be with fruit after leaves have fallen.

Share the bonsai do's and don'ts for this species, or persimmons in general, as I suspect what works with Diospyros kaki will work with Diospyros virginiana.
Title: Re: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: Minogame on December 02, 2012, 12:21 PM
Here is a link to a picture and description of the Seattle tree. (

in the NW, i have purchased varieties from (

You can find fantastic pics from the blogs of Persimmon bonsai. D. Kaki bark is describes as pale grey and scaly.
D. texana bark mottled pale gray and white, smooth, thin and attractively peely.
D. Virginiana bark chunky and rugged looking. Descriptions thanks to my friend A. Jacobson.

If anyone has quality specimens in the NW area, i would be interested in a purchase.
Title: Re: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: Yenling83 on December 03, 2012, 05:34 PM
Nice Leo, we have lots of trees here in the U.S. which have great potential, but have been used even close to potential.  Hope to see you create some great American Persimmon, I would think they could be something great.  Don't forget to work on the Nebari during every repot and post some updates,  Good luck!
Title: Re: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: rockm on December 04, 2012, 01:33 PM
"I was wondering, does the Japanese Princess Persimmon develop a rough bark like the American one?"

I have a 15 year-old Princess persimmon. It has very smooth bark.
What is lacks in bark character it make up for in tiny leaves and extremely fine twigging. Since mine is male, it doesn't bear fruit. But I don't really care, as it is working into a pretty good little tree in its own right.
Title: Re: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 05, 2012, 12:19 PM
nice, very nice, almost like a hackberry. Leaf size is nice and proportionate.

I guess the weakness of using american persimmon is the large leaves, though some leaf reduction will happen. The strength of american persimmon would be the bark for a winter display, given the tree is old enough.

The branch structure of the american persimmon is coarser also than the Japanese Princess, but that would complement the larger fruit.

I like all persimmons, regardless of origin. There is an eastern European species Diospyros lotus, the Caucasian Date-Plum, but at least from what Wikipedia says, it has all the flaws of the American, plus it lacks the rough bark that the american will eventually get.

Got my seed cleaned and some in pots outside, some in a bag in the refrigerator. We will see what happens this spring. Hopeful for many seedlings, some to share, some to grow on to bonsai.
Title: Re: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: GenoM on December 12, 2012, 12:57 PM
Very nice set of posts, Leo!  I have a couple of D virginiana started from seeds on '06.  They have always been in pots and are still seedlings.  My notes include a reference from Treebay on the BonsaiTalk forum describing how a root segment can be used to propagate.  I will experiment with that in the spring when I transplant.

Last summer I experimented with defoliation of a branch and it died.  One data point isn't worth much, but I don't plan to obtain a second one anytime soon.

Thanks for the tip on keeping the seeds wet.
Title: Re: Why don't we see more American Persimmon bonssai? Photos from the field
Post by: Leo in NE Illinois on December 12, 2012, 01:56 PM
I need to re-read everything on the Japanese persimmon, because I suspect most of the quirks of growing that the Japanese species have, the American species is likely to have also.

About defoliation in general: Even with maples and elms and other species where it is a regular practice, you just about never defoliate just one branch, you tend to defoliate most of the tree or none at all. The reason is that the branches that were not defoliated are producing hormones for apical dominance, and they will simply re-route the nutrients that were going to the defoliated branch to themselves and the defoliated branch will starve and die. If you don't do a complete defoliation on say a maple, you do just the strongest branches, and then prune out the terminal buds of all but the very weakest branches so the hormone balance of the tree is disrupted at the same time as the defoliation. At least this is my take on defoliation, if anyone else wants to add to or correct my thought there. I'm a bit fuzzy on it, though I do use the technique on my maples occasionally.

So back to American persimmon, until a tree is really growing strong, I wouldn't defoliate them. Probably never defoliate except maybe a year or two before submitting them to a major exhibition. (not even for a local club show). Then defoliate the entire tree, not just a branch. Defoliation probably is not useful until after all the branch and secondary branch work is largely done. Pruning terminal buds, but leaving the leaves might be a better option while the tree is developing. I have backed off defoliating my maples, I find it drains them of strength too much, just pruning out all the growing tips of branches, once or twice in the summer (say middle June and then again early August in zone 5b) gets the same ramification that defoliating did and doesn't seem to weaken the tree. Actually this summer I would let JM twigs grow out to 5 or so nodes, then trim back to one or two nodes. But I left the leaves on. This seemed to give me good back budding and desired branching.

I recall reading something about when to work the branches on a persimmon, (it was Japanese persimmon they were discussing) and that wrong season branch work can kill the branch. Also the timing of repotting was important too. I need to find that source. I suspect the tricks for D. kaki and D. rhombifolia will apply to our D virginiana. I think my project for the winter doldrums will be to dig up cultural info on all the various members of Diospyros, and then compile and compare. Come up with a complete guide with tips that apply to the whole genus and species specific tips. I will share when I have done this.

I was reading last night Jonas Dupuich's post on Bonsai Tonight about the Princess persimmons in Mr. Oomura’s backyard. His persimmon's are spectacular, but they all have a fairly smooth bark. I do think for medium size bonsai the American persimmon may prove to be quite nice, possibly even better, because in time it will develop a nice chunky, alligator rough bark. ( (