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Mr. Smarty Plants - How Do Persimmons Breed - Starkville, MS

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Tuesday - August 14, 2012

From: Starkville, MS
Region: Southeast
Topic: General Botany, Pollinators, Edible Plants, Trees
Title: How Do Persimmons Breed - Starkville, MS
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Thank you for your earlier response about the genders of native persimmon trees. We have two, a much larger one that has borne fruit for years and years and a smaller one that I'd just assumed was male. This year both have fruit. I know of no other persimmon trees around. Any comment--I'd just like to know why or how this happened.

ANSWER:

Nature is endlessly fascinating to those with curiosity to investigate it.  Among the strangest stories in nature is the tale of how plants reproduce.  If there is a reproductive strategy imaginable, it is employed somewhere in the plant world.  The variations are amazing.

Most flowering plants have perfect flowers, that is, both male and female parts occur within each of its flowers, or they're monoecious, having separate male and female flowers on each plant.  However, a large number of plants are dioecious, which means that each plant produces only male or only female flowers.  Persimmons, Diospyros spp. fall into this category.

Here is where all of this gets tricky.  For nearly every rule that can be applied in the plant world, there is an exception ... or two ... or many.  Your "male" persimmon tree may, in fact, be a female plant, or it may be a male that has produced some female flowers, and thus, some fruit.  If fruiting is sparse on your smaller tree, there's a good chance that it's a male that simply produced a few female flowers and fruit this year.  Likewise, it's also possible that your known female tree produces a few male flower from time to time.  If your previously-thought to be male plant turns out to truly be a male, you may or may not see fruit on it in coming years.  Fruit production on predominantley male plants is highly variable from year to year.

If your puzzling tree turns out to actually be a female, it's still no surprise that your trees are bearing fruit.  They can self-fertilize or cross-fertilize between the two trees if they produce some male flowers or even some perfect flowers, or they may get their pollen from another source.  If your persimmon fruits are seedless, they were produced with no pollination at all -- parthenocarpically -- which is yet another common reproductive strategy employed in nature!

Eastern Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana is a very common wild tree in Mississippi and across the Southeast.  It is a much more common constituent of the forest flora than most people realize and there is no doubt a number of wild-growing male persimmon trees within bee-pollination range of your garden.  Bees, including honeybees and native bees are the primary pollinators of persimmons.

 

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