Also called black sapote, chocolate persimmon (Diospyros digyna) gets its name not only from the rich, brown color of its fruit pulp, but the taste, frequently described as comparable to chocolate pudding. Native to Mexico, Central and South America, chocolate persimmon trees belong to the ebony family. Even suitable for growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, the plant may be hard to find commercially.
Black or chocolate persimmon grows to approximately 30 feet tall in cultivation, as long as they’re pruned regularly. Left to its own devices, the tree can top 80 feet. An evergreen with attractive, heavily furrowed black bark, chocolate persimmon trees have an erect growth habit with an oval or oval canopy. The tree is dioecious — male trees bear no fruit. Some trees have female or both female and male flowers, allowing them to set fruit. Varieties include “Merida,” “Mossman,” “Bernicker” and an almost seedless cultivar called “Seperb.”
Foliage and Flowers
Chocolate persimmon’s dark green leaves are leathery but shiny, growing around 12 inches long. Some division tips may develop spines. Flowers appear in the leaf axils. Male flowers generally form in clusters, while female flowers tend to be solitary bloomers. The fragrant, tubular flowers appear in the spring and are small and white with dark centres. Male flowers generally have a more intense fragrance than female flowers. The flowers are pollinated by insects, but a few varieties may require cross-pollination with a different variety of black persimmon to set fruit correctly.
Unlike the comfortable, bright red persimmon usually located in grocery stores, chocolate persimmon looks like a green tomato. The fruit may be around 5 inches in diameter, round and slightly flattened. The flesh remains green to dark green until fully ripe, as it turns brown to dark and becomes fragile. Up to 12 oblong seeds may develop within the fruit, though some fruits from precisely the same tree may be seedless. Chocolate persimmon is prolific, with healthy trees creating large crops each year.
The California Rare Fruit Growers site recommends black or chocolate persimmon for places where winter temperatures don’t fall under 29 degrees F. Trees may be grown from seeds, which take about a month to germinate after planting. To accommodate the tree size, then chocolate persimmons must be planted 10 to 12 feet apart. Seedlings should be one to two years old before planting in the garden and will begin setting fruit when they’re approximately five years old. The tree grows best in full sunlight and is not particular about soil type, so long as it has good drainage. Chocolate persimmon trees need almost no maintenance once the seedlings are found in the yard. Water young trees per week for the first couple of months. Old trees just need supplemental water during extended periods of drought.