‘Turkey Lake’ is an American persimmon variety I selected from the wild, which has better fruit size and flavor than any other form of this species I’ve encountered in Florida. I have planted a tree of this variety in a public location in Gainesville, Florida, where it is accessible for anyone to sample the fruits and collect scionwood for propagation.
The ‘Turkey Lake’ variety:
American persimmon is an extremely variable species in Florida – the fruit quality varies considerably from one tree to another. Many trees have smallish, 3/4 inch (1.9 cm) fruits, with a low flesh to seed ratio. ‘Turkey Lake’ fruits can be up to 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter, with a good flesh to seed ratio, and excellent flavor. I describe them as tasting like cinnamon-spice date pudding.
The original source of this cultivar was a population growing near Turkey Lake in Orlando. Virtually all of the other improved, named-variety cultivars of American persimmon were selected from populations in the northern parts of the range of this species, especially from Indiana. ‘Turkey Lake’ is unusual in being an improved cultivar that was selected from a (presumably wild) population near the southernmost part of the range of American persimmon.
The ‘Turkey Lake’ tree in Gainesville was planted in 2002, and it has grown to a large size. Every autumn it produces abundant crops of fruit over a long period – most years you should find some ripe fruits if you visit any time from late August through the middle of December. (The very earliest fruits to drop sometimes don’t taste quite as rich as the ones which ripen from October onward). If you’re in the North Florida area, this is a good opportunity to experience what a really good form of American persimmon tastes like. I consider fruits of this species to be one of autumn’s finest treats.
Visiting the ‘Turkey Lake’ tree in Gainesville:
The tree is located in Dreamer’s Garden, a city of Gainesville community garden located at the intersection of NW 10th Ave and NW 4th St. There’s easy parking across the street in the Earth Pets plaza (you can stop in at the store to pick up some eco-friendly treats for your furry companions while visiting the persimmon tree.)
To get to the tree, set your GPS to the address for the Earth Pets plaza, which is at 404 NW 10th Ave, Gainesvile, FL:
The main part of Dreamers Garden is fenced and gated, but the ‘Turkey Lake’ tree is located outside the fence. Location of the tree is in the northwest corner of the street intersection, near the corner of the fence. I have placed a metal sign on trunk to help identify the tree. I don’t know how long the sign will last before someone removes it, so the sign may or may not be there when you visit. The sign has a tendency to migrate around to the back side of the trunk, so it might take a little looking to spot it. I’d like to work with the community garden and city to see if it might be possible to get a more permanent, visible sign placed there to identify this tree.
American persimmon fruits drop off the tree as they ripen, so the best fruits from this tree are ones that have already fallen. Look all around on the ground, including in the surrounding vegetation for any fallen fruits. Because the tree is tall and its fruits have a tissue paper-thin skin, there are often a few splits in the skin of fruits that I find, from the impact of hitting the ground. As long as there’s no sign of dirt or insects or spoilage in the cracks, I eat those fruits.
VERY IMPORTANT: American persimmons are astringent until fully ripe. That means you need to wait to eat a fruit until it has ripened to the point that it’s COMPLETELY squishy soft. Before that, the fruits contain a substance which will give you an unpleasant “puckery” sensation in your mouth. If a fruit has any firmness at all, it’s not ready to eat yet. Once a fruit is fully ripe to the point of being squishy soft, the astringency disappears, and it is gooey sweet deliciousness – pumpkin spice pudding in a fruit. Failure to understand this fact has led many would-be persimmon eaters to conclude that they just don’t like persimmons, and they miss out on this excellent autumnal treat.
American persimmon fruits have a reputation for not ripening well off
the tree, although I’ve picked some fruits from the branches of this tree that were almost ripe, just starting to soften, and they completed the ripening process fairly well off the tree within a few days. Fruits that are picked completely firm sometimes ripen well,but sometimes they ripen poorly, without the full sweetness and flavor they should have.
When I visit this tree, if I don’t find enough fruits on the ground to satisfy me, I climb the tree and shake the branches to bring down more ripe or nearly-ripe fruits. (I’m tall enough I can just barely reach the lowest limbs and hoist myself up. Some of my more vertically challenged friends have reported they used a ladder to get up into the tree.) It’s a good idea to bring a container to put the soft fruits in, so they don’t turn into mush while you transport them home, especially if you’re coming by bike.
Help protect this tree: remove fruit debris from the sidewalk
When I planted this tree, I intentionally located it near the sidewalk. I had recently discovered another American persimmon tree when I spotted one of its fruits on a sidewalk, which caused me to look up and see the persimmon tree overhead. I wanted other people to have that same experience with this tree.
I didn’t take into account how the combination of how the large size and thick skin of ‘Turkey Lake’ fruits, along with the height this tree has reached, mean that most of the fruits hitting the sidewalk splatter rather than landing whole like the fruits on the other American persimmon tree I had seen.
One thing that could get this tree cut down by the city is if someone reports that it is creating a dangerous situation, by making the sidewalk slippery with fruit debris. So if you want this tree to continue to exist, whenever you visit during fruiting season, please take a moment to remove some of the fruit debris from the sidewalk. I find I can tilt my foot at an angle, using the bottom of my shoe to scrape the fruit debris off the sidewalk. Then wiping my shoes on the grass removes fruit debris from them.
Propagating new ‘Turkey Lake’ persimmon trees:
Fruits are not the only resource you can get from the tree at Dreamers Garden in Gainesville – you can also get propagation material. ‘Turkey Lake’ is an excellent cultivar, as good as any of the named varieties of persimmon in cultivation which I’ve eaten. It is worthy of being propagated and distributed widely. Unlike the other named varieties of American persimmon, it originated in Florida, so it is likely to be better adapted in warm-temperate to subtropical climate zones. (if you’re in a region north of Florida and want to see named varieties of American persimmon better suited to colder climate zones, check out Edible Landscaping nursery.)
The variety ‘Turkey Lake’ is in the public domain, unencumbered by any plant patents or trademarks. You are welcome to propagate it, either for personal use or commercially. I just ask that you keep any trees you propagate vegetatively (by grafting or root suckers) from this tree labelled with the cultivar name, ‘Turkey Lake’. Please do not label plants grown from SEEDS of this tree as ‘Turkey Lake’ (unless they’re grafted), because each plant started from seed is a new variety, genetically distinct from the parent tree (more about this below). Years from now, it will be very confusing if there are both seed-grown plants (each genetically a new variety) and vegetatively propagated plants (each genetically identical to the parent) being distributed under the same name, ‘Turkey Lake’ persimmon.
Almost everyone who eats these fruits is so impressed by their quality that they want to plant the seeds, but unfortunately, American persimmon does not come true from seed. Also, this species comes in separate male trees and female trees, so out of any batch of seedlings, half the trees will be male and will never make fruit. If you want a tree which makes fruits just like the tree at Dreamers Garden, the most reliable method is grafting: collect twigs (scion wood) from the tree during the winter dormant period (January to mid February), and graft them onto seedlings of American persimmon. If you don’t already have persimmon seedlings, this would be a several-year project – first, plant seeds from this tree, then grow them out for one to two years, then come back in winter to get budwood from the tree and graft it onto your seedlings.
Other persimmon species in the genus Diospyros might also work as rootstocks. American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) can easily intergraft with Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki), and it has even been successfully grafted with the tropical Mexican persimmon, chocolate pudding fruit (Diospyros nigra).
Grafting persimmons can be tricky, and my own attempts to produce grafted persimmon trees have had mixed results. I am hoping to get a professional grafter working for a nursery to produce lots of ‘Turkey Lake’ persimmon trees. People often ask me where they can purchase a ‘Turkey Lake’ persimmon tree, and so far I have not had much of an answer for them.
Another way to propagate an American persimmon variety is by digging up root suckers. Unlike many trees, American persimmon sends up sprouts from the root system, which eventually will grow into a new tree with identical genetics to the original.
If you find a persimmon tree which makes good fruits, look around it for small persimmon tree sprouts coming up nearby – those are likely root suckers, coming up from the root system of the good tree. Digging up a small root sucker and planting it elsewhere will start a new tree with the same genetics as the original (assuming the tree you’re propagating from is on its own roots and not grafted). That’s the way I propagated the original tree I planted at Dreamers Garden – I dug up a small root sucker from the original patch of trees in Orlando, and planted one at the community garden in Gainesville.
Since the ‘Turkey Lake’ tree at Dreamers Garden is on its own roots, any suckers coming up from its root system will also be ‘Turkey Lake’. There are a number of small persimmon trees coming up in Dreamer’s Garden. At least some of them are root suckers from the original ‘Turkey Lake’ tree. The one on the other side of the sidewalk, next to the electrical box, is undoubtedly a root sucker, because it makes fruits every fall just like the big tree. (That one is too big to dig up, and would require hazardous digging around buried electrical lines anyway) Unfortunately, there are also seedling persimmon trees coming up all around, and it’s hard to say whether many of the other small American persimmon trees coming up in the garden are root suckers, or seedlings from dropped fruits.
Another vegetative way of producing trees is cutting propagation, where you trim off cuttings of a tree and convince those cuttings to produce roots, so they can grow into new trees with identical genetics to the parent. American persimmon is not easy to propagate by cuttings, but I’ve seen at least one report documenting success at this method.
If you want to do an even longer term project and you have the space, you can plant out seed-grown plants from the tree at Dreamers Garden, and evaluate them as they come into bearing. Because the seedlings come from a good parent, on average, the female trees should have better fruit than the average wild American persimmon. And some of them might have even larger, tastier fruits than the parent tree, and would be worthy of naming and vegetatively propagating as a new variety. For anyone who wants to try establishing American persimmon in zones closer to the equator than Florida, planting seeds from ‘Turkey Lake’ might be an interesting way to go, since this cultivar is already well adapted to a subtropical climate, and seeds are generally much easier to move across international borders than plants. (Unfortunately, I am not able to mail out persimmon seeds.)
American persimmon pollination requirements are complicated, and consequently I don’t know if ‘Turkey Lake’ requires pollination from another tree in order to produce fruits. Most American persimmon trees produce either male or female flowers. Male trees don’t make any fruit. Many female trees will set fruit only if a male tree is nearby to pollinate its flowers. Reportedly, some female trees will set seeded fruit when pollinated by a male, and they’ll set seedless fruits when not pollinated. A few varieties of this species produce both female and male flowers, so these trees are capable of pollinating themselves, and will set seeded fruit even if no other persimmon trees are around. The tree at Dreamers Garden produces abundant crops of fruit every year, and the fruits always have seeds. I have not seen a male persimmon tree nearby which could be acting as a pollen “daddy”, but I can’t rule out that there might be one. So it may be that an isolated ‘Turkey Lake’ tree will produce fruit, or it may require a male tree nearby to pollinate it. Hopefully we’ll figure that out soon.
The original ‘Turkey Lake’ population in Orlando:
If you’re in the Orlando area and you want to go on a little fruit-hunting adventure, you might want to attempt to scout out the original patch of ‘Turkey Lake’ persimmon trees. Anytime from September to mid December, there could be a lot of excellent fruits waiting for you. I have not been to that location to look for the trees in many years. I don’t know if they are still there.
The location was at Turkey Lake Park, which has since been renamed Bill Frederick Park. The trees were at the very far end of the park from the entrance, on the disk golf course, at station number twelve on the course. They were a cluster of trees, all apparently root suckers of the same excellent clone. Check the map in the accompanying photo for the location. If you attempt to locate this group of trees, please contact me to let me know what you find. Even if it turns out that the original trees are gone, I want to know about it – if they’re definitely gone, I’ll stop directing people to go look for them.
Fruit trees belong in public locations:
Following the example of this persimmon tree in Gainesville, I am in the process of getting trees of other good varieties of fruit trees fully in the public domain by planting out trees of them in public locations where anyone is free both to sample fruits and to collect propagation material. I encourage everyone to plant good varieties of fruit and nut trees in public places, so that everyone has access to them.