Edible ornamentals have become increasingly important in the landscape where they combine beauty and utility. Few plants fit as easily into so many landscapes as Japanese persimmons, Diospyros kaki. Their small size, ease of growth, brilliant fall color, and delicious fruit make them ideal candidates for adding to almost any garden. They fruit best in a sunny spot but will tolerate some shade and almost any soil. Fruiting is best when several are planted but most named selections are self-fruitful.
Despite the common name, D. kaki is originally from China and has been in gardens for at least 2,000 years making it one of the earliest known cultivated plants. In Asia, it is used not only for the wonderful flavor but also used medicinally to treat a wide range of ailments. It forms a small tree in cultivation although it can grow larger with age. Broad, glossy, deep green leaves are attractive all summer. In fall, the color can be absolutely spectacular ranging from blaze orange to fire engine red.
Much like our native persimmon, the fruit can be very astringent in some forms although breeding has removed the astringency from some of the cultivated selections like the popular 'Fuyu'. Astringent cultivars should be allowed to ripen completely until they are soft and can be eaten with a spoon. They will continue to ripen after being harvested. Non-astringent fruit can be eaten while still firm or allowed to soften.
Perhaps the most elegant selection of Japanese persimmon is the weeping form selected by famed Japanese plantsman, Akira Shibamichi and known as 'Shibamichi Weeping' to differentiate it from the more common 'Pendula'. The gracefully cascading branches bear masses of spindle-shaped fruit, much different than the typical squat shape of other cultivars. I have found it to be quite self-fertile in my home garden even in shade. J. C. Raulston noted this plant on a visit to Shibamichi-san's nursery in 1995 where the plant remains to this day at the entrance to the driveway.