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Chilton’s autumn fruit: persimmons

By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith/ Community columnist

When thinking of Chilton County, the first fruit that comes to mind is generally peaches, but the local climate and rich soil are also the love language for persimmons. Dr. Arlie Powell of Petals from the Past cultivates, grows and sells a variety of persimmons that prosper in Chilton’s habitat.

Powell, a native of Florida, grew up on his family’s orange grove outside of Tampa. His love and study of plants and citrus trees has been life-long.

Oriental persimmons originated from the Far East, and California is the only state to commercially produce persimmons within the United States. However, Oriental persimmons thrive in Alabama’s semi-hardy weather conditions. Similar to peaches, when temperatures do not generally get below a certain freezing point, Oriental persimmons are able to produce fruit for the following year, making Alabama an ideal location to grow persimmons.

“Growing persimmons hasn’t caught on here in Alabama because people don’t know how good they are,” said Powell. “It’s a secret. Besides for the hard pear, they are the easiest fruit tree to grow.”

The persimmon variety, Diospryros, translates from Latin meaning “fruit of the gods.” Powell uses variety Diospyros kaki (Oriental persimmons) with Alabama’s native, Diospyros virginiana to produce the seedless star-shaped variety that consumers want. Diospyros virginiana grows wild in Alabama forests and is a favorite food of wildlife, including deer.  Other varieties at Petals from the Past include: Fuyu, Matsumoto, Wase Fuyu and Fuyo Imoto.

The most ideal time for planting is late fall and winter (December-February). Although persimmon trees may grow up to 25 feet, Powell recommends allowing the tree to grow up to 9 feet so that fruit may be easily reached with the use of a ladder. Persimmons usually begin producing fruit in their third season. Tree branches will become compromised with the weight of the fruit and break. For that reason, Powell recommends making a trellis at 3, 5, and 7 feet heights so that the weighted branches will have support from the cables. A 5-year-old tree will produce 250-300 fruit during the months of October and November.

“There are so many good uses for them: persimmon ice cream, persimmon bread, in salads, and they last such a long time,” Powell said. “If you wash them and put them in a freezer bag, they will last for up to a month in the refrigerator. My wife cans them, and we sell many jars to visitors.”

Powell and his family own and operate Petals from the Past in Jemison. Dr. Powell has a Ph. D in Agriculture from the University of Florida in Gainesville and taught Propagation at Auburn University. He has visited and studied agricultural techniques across Guatemala, New Zealand and Europe.