Chocolate pudding fruit successfully grafted onto American persimmon

A successful three-year old graft of chocolate pudding fruit (Diospyros nigra) onto American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). Grafting and photo by Paul Zmoda.

If you’re a fruit geek like me, you sometimes wonder what kind of fruit trees you can successfully manage to graft together. Several years ago, I started wondering that question about two excellent fruits in the Ebenaceae plant family: American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) and its cousin chocolate pudding fruit, also called black sapote* (Diospyros nigra).

These trees and their fruits are very different in appearance and flavor. Chocolate pudding fruit is native to Mexico, has stiff, evergreen leaves, and requires tropical and and near-tropical climates. Its fruits are large, with a sweet flavor that people describe as resembling chocolate pudding or chocolate mousse.

American persimmon is native to much of the eastern third of the continental US, where it grows over a wide range of climates, from subtropical Florida to cold-winter areas of Indiana. The trees are deciduous, and produce small fruits which taste a bit like a soft, squishy date.

In approach grafting, you slice off some bark from both scion and rootstock and bind those cut surfaces together while they hopefully join together. In February 2015, I tried this technique to graft chocolate pudding fruit (the branch coming in from the right) onto several potted plants of American persimmon.

In early 2015, I decided to see if these two members of genus Diospyros could be grafted onto each other. Partly I wanted to see if using the super cold hardy American persimmon as rootstock could impart some additional frost tolerance onto the tropical chocolate pudding fruit. But also I was just curious if these related fruit species, which are so different in appearance, could be fused into one tree.

I had never heard of anyone grafting these species, and I expected it might be a slow and difficult process for them to join their tissues together. So to test the combo, I used an approach graft, which can be helpful in difficult graft combinations. I had a seedling chocolate pudding fruit growing in a pot, and around it I placed several seedling American persimmon seedling growing in pots, and I sliced a strip of bark and cambium off branches of each tree species, and bound those cut surfaces together.

After several weeks, the trees appeared to have grown together at the junctions, so I cut the connections to the chocolate pudding fruit parent tree in step-wise fashion, first girdling the branch, then cutting through more and more of the remaining wood, until I’d cut entirely through the last bit of tissue connecting the scions to their parent tree. All of the grafts handled this process successfully, and as a result I had a number of potted chocolate pudding fruits grafted successfully onto American persimmon.

By April 2015, all the grafts of Diospyros nigra onto Diospyros virginiana were successful.

I have since moved some of the seedlings into larger pots, and they have continued to grow well up to the size of the pot they’re in, with little to no sign of graft incompatibility as of 2019, four years later at the time of this writing.

One possibility I had wondered about was whether the cold hardy rootstock would impart additional frost tolerance into the chocolate pudding fruit scion. I found out by accident when I accidentally left one of the potted trees out over a frosty night that this does not appear to be the case – the tree suffered extensive frost damage, although it did not lose its graft. To properly test if there is any small difference in frost tolerance produced by this graft, it would be necessary to plant out a number of chocolate pudding fruits, some on their own roots and some grafted onto American persimmon, all exposed to frost identically, and observe how much damage both get.

In August 2016, Paul Zmoda tried this same combo of Diospyros nigra onto Diospyros virginiana, using a cleft graft, and he also succeeded.

Another possibility is that American persimmon could potentially function as a dwarfing rootstock for chocolate pudding fruit, especially if you use a smaller-growing growing clone of American persimmon. My trees growing in their pots have adopted a fairly sprawling growth habit. I don’t know if this is an effect of the grafting process, or because I used side branches of the chocolate pudding fruit, which have retained their side-ways growth habit.

Since this was just a random “can it work?” project which I hadn’t really expected to succeed, I used a seedling black sapote plant which I happened to have. So the grafted trees have juvenile wood, and have not flowered. I haven’t bothered planting them in the ground, because with their juvenile wood, these might take quite a while to start flowering and fruiting. I should try it again using scions cut from a mature, fruiting chocolate pudding tree, which could make trees that would start producing fruit potentially in just a few years after grafting.

Another possible use of this graft is if there are soil conditions which American persimmon can handle, but which chocolate pudding fruits have trouble with. (I’ve seen American persimmon thriving in flooded soil conditions – I don’t know how well Diospyros nigra handles flooding.)

Paul Zmoda’s chocolate pudding fruit (Diospyros nigra) grafted onto American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), as of August 2019, growing near Tampa, FL. Paul says the three-year-old tree has flowered but not set any fruit yet. (possibly it may be needing a pollinator). The graft appears successful so far.

I told fellow tropical fruit enthusiast Paul Zmoda about this successful graft, and he successfully replicated it, doing a cleft graft in August 2016. His grafts healed rapidly, and he has at least one tree he’s planted out in the ground at his location near Tampa, FL. He reports that as of August 2019, his three-year-old tree has flowered but not set any fruit yet. Unlike my plants produced with this graft, his tree has an upright growth habit.

I have not tried doing the reverse graft – American persimmon on chocolate pudding fruit. I’m not sure if that combination would have any use, but maybe it could allow American persimmon to grow in more tropical conditions than it can on its own roots.

Done either way, this graft combination may or may not have any practical use. But if anyone wants to experiment with possible uses, these two tree species seem to graft onto each other quite easily.

 

*Note: I use the name “chocolate pudding fruit” preferentially over “black sapote” because of the inevitable confusion generated by the “sapote” names for various unrelated fruits.


5 thoughts on “Chocolate pudding fruit successfully grafted onto American persimmon

  1. Very interesting. I read in the past that black sapote grafted onto native persimmon rootstock had been attempted but always resulted in failure. A shame that the frost still nipped it, but now that the previous reports of it not being compatible to begin with have been disproved, there’s a sliver of promise that there’s potential.

    Also, coincidentally, you posted about the Texas persimmon recently. Having moved to the state recently, I’ve been wondering if it has some root stock potential for American and oriental persimmons. Maybe even black sapote? Never heard of anyone grafting onto it, but now that I have a tree in my yard, it’s something I’ll try myself once it matures a bit.

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    1. Hi Jack, thanks for commenting.
      Curious that other people have failed at grafting chocolate pudding fruit onto American persimmon – I wonder if different cultivars of either species have greater or lesser degrees of graft compatibility with the other species.
      Actually, Paul Zmoda (who I referred to in this post) has done some of the grafting experiments you’re talking about. I think he has grafted inter-grafted Texas persimmon with Asian persimmon, and possibly American persimmon also. I remember seeing pics he put on Facebook of the scions starting to push out new growth. That was 2-3 years ago; I don’t know if the grafts have continued to be successful.
      I encourage anyone doing experiments like this to post their results on a publicly accessible blog like this one, so it’s easy for anyone else to learn about it.
      I think it’s worth trying grafts among any of these three species.
      Which state did you move to – Texas? And you’ve got a Texas persimmon in your yard?

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      1. Yes, Texas. I don’t have an Instagram account, so I’ll go ahead and post all I know about the Texas persimmon based on my short time here. Hope you can pass it along to anyone interested:

        It does favor this region of the country with a high tolerance of alkaline clay soils and arid climates that experience 100F+ temperatures/low humidity. For anyone interested in sampling the fruit without foraging, I’d point them to Guadalupe State Park which is north of San Antonio. They trees are prolific. You’ll see plenty of them the moment you enter the parking lot facing the path leading towards the water. Go in the summer, and you’ll see the green fruit on the female trees. Late August is about the time when they start to ripen, though you’ll have to beat the wildlife to the punch since once they’re black and ripe, it’s only a matter of time before they’re gone. Green fruit do ripen off the counter as long as they’re a mature size, but tree-ripened is naturally superior.

        I’ve seen the trees for sell at a couple local nurseries in the native plants section amongst unattractive ferns and cacti, which doesn’t help elevate it from obscurity. I know of at least one grower who found one for sell in Arizona. I recommend anyone looking to get a tree to check out Rainbow Gardens in San Antonio, TX. They had mature trees at least 6ft. tall. Go in the autumn when they’re bearing fruit as an assured way to know you’re getting a female or male. Cross-pollination is required, however, so those interested in growing one outside of the native region will not be able to count on a wild male tree to pollinate the fruit-bearing female.

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        1. Excellent info, thanks so much for that! I noticed you said they tolerate alkaline soil conditions.
          I’m about to plant out some potted Texas persimmons in the ground here in North Florida, where our soil is on the acidic side. I hope they can handle that kind of soil, or I may have to resort to grafting them onto American persimmon.
          I’ve been surprised that as far as I can tell, there don’t seem to be any named-variety clones of Texas persimmon, propagated from wild female trees with better-than-average fruits. Have you ever run into any wild trees with particularly large, fleshy fruits? I’ve heard that fruit size in them varies with rainfall, so I suspect a tree growing in a lower, damper spot will make larger fruits because of that. But I’m wondering if there are trees which genetically make larger fruit. If you find one, that could become the first named variety of Texas persimmon.

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        2. All the ones I’ve seen have been berry-sized. I’ll keep an eye out for any that stand out in the coming seasons. With so few locals even aware they exist, I wouldn’t be surprised some worthwhile trees worth propagating are out in the open.

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