My persimmon's fall foliage turns brilliant orange-red. Photo: Steve Bender

Remember growing up with native persimmon, the tree whose orange fruit if picked and eaten too early in fall would make you pucker up like Presidential candidates during the visit of Pope Francis? Well, I'm here to tell you about a better persimmon that is so easy to grow, so pretty, and so productive that everyone who can grow it should. And the one I have bears fruit that's sweet.

A few years back, I picked up a Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) from my friend, Jason Powell, from Petals of the Past Nursery in Jemison, Alabama. On his recommendation, I chose a non-puckering selection called 'Fuyu,' which I feel compelled to point out is the worst name for a plant EVER. Just imagine the following exchange:

"What kind of persimmon do you have there?"


"Well, Fuyu too!"

Despite its name, 'Fuyu' has a lot going for it. Planted by itself, it bears seedless fruit the shape, size, and color of a tomato. (Planted with another selection, the fruit forms seeds, but yields may be larger.) The fruit is sweet and crisp as an apple. You can eat them fresh, make persimmon smoothies, puree them for persimmon ice cream, or freeze and store the flesh. Some people like to leave them on the tree until they get soft, but manly Grumpy likes his firm.

em'Fuyu' Japanese persimmon. Photo: Steve Bender/em

If you live in the Middle to the Coastal South (USDA Zones 7-9), you need to try this tree. It's the most undemanding fruit tree I've ever grown and needs no spraying. It's also the most productive. This year, my eight-foot tree bore so much fruit (my guess is 30 pounds) that some branches broke from the weight. Fortunately, they remained attached to the trunk by slivers of bark, so using wire and duct tape I was able to keep the branches alive until the fruit ripened. I used stakes and twist-ties to support other branches.

Now with all of those "tomatoes" hanging in plain sight, you might wonder about problems with hungry birds. Japanese persimmon has a clever trick to protect them. Just after the fruit ripen, the leaves atop them turn bright orange and red -- practically the same color -- camouflaging the fruit. But if you're worried, just pick the ripe fruit and store it in the refrigerator.

Plant a Japanese persimmon this fall. When someone asks what kind you want, tell them, "Grumpy says Fuyu."