With the terms kaki we generally refer to the fruit of the persimmon tree (also known as diospero), which is often identified with the terms kaki and cachi as well. In this article, we will discover the properties of kaki, the main varieties, and all the techniques for its organic cultivation as a typical autumn fruit.
Together with chestnuts and pomegranates, kaki is one of the most delicious fruits that autumn offers us. The harvest often extends until late December. Its success is due to its sweetness and delicacy, two virtues that make this fruit popular even among children.
From a nutritional point of view, kaki has excellent properties. The plant is also hardy and resistant to pest attacks, making it ideal for cultivation in home orchards, where a single tree can provide great satisfaction.
Origin of Kaki and Its Spread
Before exploring the properties of kaki, let’s study its origin. Diospyros kaki, the species of our interest, is a tree crop native to Asia, belonging to the Ebenaceae family.
The first cultivation of cachi can be traced back to China 2000 years ago. Subsequently, the cultivar spread to many other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea. Even today, these countries, along with China, are among the leading global producers.
For this reason, kaki is also known as the “lotus of Japan” or the “Oriental apple”.
In ancient Chinese culture, the kaki tree was known as the plant with seven virtues. These seven properties of kaki are as follows:
- It is very long-lived.
- Its dense foliage provides ample shade.
- It offers hospitality to birds among its branches.
- It is immune to parasite attacks.
- Its leaves are decorative until they fall.
- Its wood is precious and excellent for firewood.
- It nourishes the soil with abundant leaf fall and fruit drop.
- In more recent times, it has been nicknamed the “tree of peace” because some specimens miraculously survived the atomic bomb in Nagasaki in 1945.
Kaki arrived in Europe in the late 1800s. In Italy, cultivation began to spread in the early 1900s, especially in regions like Emilia Romagna. In our country, kaki is known as diospiro or simply cachi.
Characteristics of Diospiro, the Kaki Tree
As mentioned earlier, diospiro, or the kaki tree, is one of the longest-lived fruit trees. If not pruned, its size can reach up to 15 meters in older specimens.
Trunk and Roots
The root system is strong and extensive, leading to the development of many suckers.
The kaki tree has a very slow growth rate. Its bark is gray and rough, marked by many irregular-shaped fissures, and its trunk is straight.
However, the inner branches of the plant are delicate and often subject to breakage due to weather conditions. Therefore, it is advisable to cultivate it in areas less exposed to the wind.
The leaves, especially in early autumn, are very beautiful and distinctive. They have an elliptical shape and are large. Their color is dark green in spring and summer, while in autumn, they take on the typical yellow and red hues.
Fruits and Ripening
After the leaves fall in early autumn, the trees remain bare but laden with fruits. One of the properties of kaki is that its fruits are highly eye-catching. They are round and about the size of an apple, with a bright orange color that stands out against the gray autumn and winter skies.
Depending on the kaki variety, the characteristics of the fruit’s flesh can vary, being either very soft or firm. The interior may contain a different number of large seeds, typically ranging from 0 to 8.
Flowers and Blossoming
Now let’s observe the flowers and their blooming in this tree species, which is one of the most complex properties of kaki. First of all, the flowering is late and occurs in May, far from the classic frosts of March-April that often damage many fruit trees. The flowers of kaki can be of three types: female, male, and hermaphroditic.
In general, they are inconspicuous, being very small. Female flowers are solitary, while male flowers are grouped in clusters of three. This determines the sexual expression of the plant, which is defined as a polygamous species.
Depending on the cultivar, we find varieties with hermaphroditic flowers, both solitary female flowers and male flowers in clusters. Other varieties are called “pollinators”, which have only male flowers. The most valuable varieties have only female flowers.
Sex Change in Diospiro
Complicating matters further is another property of kaki, the possibility that the persimmon changes its sexual expression during its life cycle. It often happens that some persimmons with only female flowers emit male flowers after a few years, and vice versa.
Pollination of the flowers mainly occurs through bees, making it entomophilous.
Regarding fruiting, we can have seedless fruits (parthenocarpic fruiting) or fruits with seeds (reproductive fruiting).
Varieties of Persimmons
The different varieties of persimmons can be distinguished based on the intensity of astringency in the fruits and the presence or absence of seeds. Astringency is the sensation of dryness and roughness experienced in the oral cavity.
This distinction is crucial because it determines whether the fruit is immediately consumable after harvesting or requires ripening, which increases sugar levels and makes the flesh pleasant to the palate.
So, we will have:
- Constant Non-Astringent Fruiting Varieties (CFNA). These are fruits that are immediately edible after harvesting, regardless of the presence of seeds. Examples of this variety include the classic sweet persimmon, Jiro persimmon, and Fuyu Gosho persimmon. In these varieties, the flesh is firm and light.
- Constant Astringent Fruiting Varieties (CFA). In this case, the fruits, regardless of the presence of seeds, are astringent. Therefore, they need a post-harvest ripening period, called ammezzimento. The most well-known varieties in this group are the Hachiya and Yokono persimmons.
- Variable Non-Astringent Fruiting Varieties (VFNA). Depending on the presence of seeds in the fruit, these fruits may be more or less astringent. If the fruit contains seeds, it is immediately consumable. If, on the other hand, the variety is seedless, it needs the ripening period. This variety includes the most well-known and widespread persimmon species in our country, with or without seeds. Among these, we have the Mela persimmon, Tipo persimmon, Vaniglia persimmon, and Cioccolatino persimmon.
- Variable Astringent Fruiting Varieties (VFA): These are varieties that are edible only around the seed. One of the less common varieties is the Hiratanenashi persimmon.
Propagating Persimmons with Rootstocks
Persimmons are mainly propagated using rootstocks, and the most commonly used ones are three:
- Diospyrus Lotus, the most widespread in Italy as it is highly resistant to cold and extreme weather conditions, such as long periods of drought. Its only issue is that it is not compatible with all the existing varieties.
- Diospyrus Kaki, less used because it is not very cold-resistant, although it is compatible with almost all varieties.
- Diospyrus Virginiana, not widely used because it produces misshapen and heavily suckering plants.
Properties of Persimmons
Persimmons are a fruit with high nutritional value.
First of all, let’s state that the edible part of the fruit accounts for 97%, which means it is almost entirely edible. Secondly, it contains 82% water and provides 65 kcal per 100 grams of product, making it highly caloric due to its high content of carbohydrates, mainly fructose and glucose.
Other essential properties of persimmons include high mineral content, such as 4 mg of sodium, 170 mg of potassium, 8 mg of calcium, and 16 mg of phosphorus.
Due to its high energy values, persimmons are recommended for those who engage in sports activities or physically demanding work. They are an excellent tonic, suitable for those suffering from apathy and fatigue, both physical and mental. They are also highly recommended for children for the beneficial sugars they provide.
Because of its nutritional qualities, excessive consumption of persimmons is not advised for those following a low-calorie diet or suffering from diabetes or digestive disorders.
One particular property of persimmons is their diuretic and laxative effect on the body.
In our country, persimmons are typically consumed fresh. However, in Asia, they are often subjected to drying processes for prolonged consumption throughout the year.
How Many Persimmon Trees to Cultivate?
Persimmon cultivation is ideal for a domestic garden. When mature, the tree can produce very abundant harvests, even up to 150 kg per tree!
For a family’s consumption, just one persimmon tree is sufficient. However, it requires patience, as the development cycle is slow. In the early years of growth, you may even feel that the plant is not growing or is growing very slowly. Then suddenly, you will observe significant growth. From that moment on, the tree will grow more rapidly until it becomes tall and imposing.
How to Cultivate Persimmons
We have seen that one of the properties of persimmons is their propagation through rootstocks. In particular, Diospyrus Lotus is highly resistant to cold. Therefore, persimmon cultivation can be successful even in northern latitudes. It can withstand harsh winter climates and even constant freezing temperatures. However, this depends on the rootstock variety chosen, as not all rootstocks possess the same resistance.
Exposure to Winds
Therefore, special attention should be paid, more than to cold temperatures, to exposure to winds. As mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of persimmons is their weak branches. These branches, especially when laden with fruit, can break easily. Thus, it is advisable to plant the persimmon in less exposed areas of the garden to protect it from potential damage.
Regarding the cultivation soil, persimmons require well-draining, moderately loamy soil with a good supply of organic matter. However, this cultivar can also grow well in clayey and dry soils.
From the fertilization perspective, it is advisable to periodically add some organic matter to the soil. This should be done either in autumn when vegetative growth slows down or in late winter/early spring when vegetative growth resumes.
Of course, evaluate the conditions of your soil. If it is already rich in organic matter, avoid additional fertilization. It is worth mentioning that persimmons have the ability to self-feed and self-fertilize. The significant leaf fall during autumn and the natural falling of some persimmons, almost inevitable, provide an adequate supply of organic matter.
I remember visiting a garden where the persimmon fruits were no longer harvested and just fell to the ground. Well, the soil around the persimmon tree was black and rich like never before. I took some home…
One characteristic of persimmon cultivation is that the tree does not have high water requirements. However, during the summer and the beginning of fruit formation, prolonged drought could lead to stunted growth and irregular fruit formation. Therefore, we recommend emergency irrigation, especially during the summer.
Pruning persimmons tree
True to the property of minimizing human intervention, persimmon trees require minimal pruning. In theory, the few pruning interventions are related to the chosen training shape. In general, the annual interventions involve the production pruning, aimed at renewing fruiting branches annually.
For each type of intervention, as always, it is crucial to choose the right pruning tools.
Another operation involves simply cutting back excessively long branches to avoid imbalances in the tree. However, excessive cuts that could compromise productivity should be avoided. After a severe cut, persimmon trees tend to develop non-fruiting suckers and branches.
Pruning works should be carried out in the winter period. However, if the area is subject to frost, it is more appropriate to perform pruning at the end of autumn or postpone it to the end of winter.
Fortunately, one of the properties of persimmons is that they are a very robust and resistant cultivar. Trees and fruits do not suffer from particular parasite attacks, except for fruit flies.
For specific information on biological defense against this insect pest, we recommend a dedicated treatment. Here, it is enough to remember that in the agricultural field, a sort of biotechnological fight against this insect is increasingly widespread. It involves the breeding of large quantities of insects that are sterilized in laboratories and then released into the environment to keep the populations under direct control and reduce their reproductive rate.
Another property of persimmons is their ability to attract various species of birds, which are naturally fond of them. However, we cannot consider this a positive feature. Nevertheless, we have explained all the techniques for biological defense against birds in this post. These tips are also valid for this cultivar.
Last but not least is the issue of harvesting, the modalities of which depend on the varieties you have chosen. Usually, the ripening of the fruits is staggered, starting from the second half of October and lasting throughout November, extending even into late December. Clearly, if your variety is suitable for immediate consumption, you will need to be more attentive and hasten both the harvesting and consumption to avoid fruit spoilage. On the other hand, if your variety requires post-harvest ripening, you will have more time to manage the distribution of your persimmons.
During this phase, it is essential to keep the persimmons separated as direct contact may cause fruit damage.
After discussing this last property of persimmons, we can conclude the article here. At this point, there is nothing left to do but wish you successful cultivation!
- University of Vermont: The article titled “Tannins & Medicinal Uses of Persimmon” discusses the role of tannins in persimmons and their medicinal uses.
- Dartmouth College: The article titled “Chemistry and Functionality of Bioactive Compounds Present in Persimmon” discusses the major phenolic compounds present in persimmon and their health promoting properties.
- Salisbury University: The article titled “The common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana L.): The history of an underutilized fruit tree (17th–19th centuries)” discusses the medicinal uses of persimmon bark.