Why Diospyros lotus not more widely grown? Anyone have it?

fabaceae_nativeAugust 23, 2012

I know that this species is commonly used as a rootstock for persimmons, especially Asian varieties, but I rarely hear of folks growing D. lotus, the Date-plum, for itself.

The Plants for a Future Database, for which I have a great deal of respect, gives the Date-plum the highest edibility rating (5), while D. kaki, the Asian persimmon gets a 4. The description of the fruit for D. lotus sounds much like that for D. virginiana, the American persimmon, which also gets a rating of 5 for edibility in the database.

So the merits of D. lotus seem to be many (cold-hardiness, vigorous and disease resistant enough to be an important rootstock, and apparently having delicious fruit), and outranks Asian persimmon in many categories. So what's the story? Is there some drawback to this species I don't know about, or is it just not popular by convention? Or is this all about size? (talk about an American obsession!)

I find it strange that several unusual fruits such as Jujube, Persimmons, and Pawpaw would constantly show up in posts on this forum, but not a thing about the Date-plum!

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

When I looked into it a long time ago I vaguely recall some issues with season length for ripening. Googling now all I can find is it does ripen late, and the northernmost place I can find growing it is Italy.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 12:37PM
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That could be it Scott... I would not have guessed that, having such small fruit and being native to the Caucasus Mts which have a temperate flora. I guess an important question is whether the ripening process is capable of continuing after frosts begin, and after leaf fall. October/November ripening is certainly not too late compared to some persimmons though.

I also can't find evidence of any named varieties, which would probably address the late ripening problem if they existed.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 3:03PM
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Lotus fruits do ripen in Europe Central just before the onset of winter. But they are small fully seeded and practically inedible. I cannot see any merits of this species other than being a good rootstock for container grown kaki. It is not a good rootstock for virginiana. Frost damage starts at - 20C (-4F) and its shallow root system may be affected to the point that the whole tree slowly dies. After this year winter in Europe I no longer use D. lotus as a rootstock for any persimmon planted outside.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 8:53AM
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Thanks for the first-hand info harbin. Could it be that it's "practically inedible" eaten fresh with the seeds, but something different entirely when dried?

According to the Wikipedia entry, it is one of the oldest plants in cultivation and is the source of the genus name meaning "fruit of the gods". I wonder if the seeds are removed before drying, at which time it is comparable to dates as so many sources claim?

Thanks harbin for the info on cold hardiness, eventual death from -4F is certainly not a fully hardy zone 6 plant.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 10:41AM
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I've never tasted date plums but I do have trees and have grafted some of the lotus selections from the Davis repository as well as virginiana and kaki onto one. This tree, planted from seed and now about 15 feet tall has been cold hardy and vigorous without any dieback to -7F. A late frost this season killed all the lotus blossoms so I will have to wait another year to taste the fruit. I've heard that there is demand for this fruit in parts of Asia and that seedless varieties exist.

For those in zone 6 or higher, lotus may offer an advantage over virginiana rootstock when grafting virginiana. I know of a British grower of virginiana who uses lotus exclusively for rootstock because it does not sucker. Lotus also shows less variability than virginiana. And its root structure is better adapted to potted culture.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 12:28PM
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Wow creekweb, thanks for the info! I thought something sounded strange about the -4F figure, maybe has to do with European climate or to variability in D. lotus used for rootstock.

There's a nursery here in Northern NM (also zone 6) that sells them, maybe I'll give it a try.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 2:11PM
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I have one by accident. Had a Hachiya persimmon grafted onto it that unfortunately got mowed down in the spring of 2011, so now it's D. lotus. The funny thing is that it just got mowed down again a couple of weeks ago, even though I had it clearly marked. But it's already growing back.

D. lotus seems to be like roaches--you can't kill 'em! ;)

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 1:57AM
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Anyone have a superior-fruiting selection? It ripens fully in zone 6b.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 12:44PM
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floramakros(Earth CA 9)

Surprised someone didn't mention the biggest reason for their scarcity in the fruit tree trade, you need both a mature male and female tree (it is a dioecious species), a female clone wouldn't work, no fruits would be produced. You need a proven male clone and a proven female clone and the willingness to use the land space for two trees just to produce a crop on the female tree (something a commercial pistachio or date-plum orchard has the space to do, plant one male for every so many female trees), or you need to use seedlings and then weed out the herd at sexual maturity. Neither of these two things is ever going to be widely done by hobbyist growers so although available if you really look, it'll never be as common as peaches, plums, cherries etc. in local nurseries or catalogs.

Private growers want self-pollinating fruit trees for the most part (the public really loves combo graft trees because of the space they save), or if they live in a region where pollinators are plentiful and it's never an issue on crop yields (living in orchard country/farmland with its thousands of beehives for example) even then they at least want a tree that bears fruit, not take a 50/50 chance. Growing a pair of Kiwi vines is one thing, but growing two trees is by many magnitudes a deeper investment most gardeners won't bother making. Now if your local Lowe's had a male clone GRAFTED onto a female tree (and assuming the flowers of both sexes on the tree would be produced in sync for successful reproduction, the pollen remaining fertile) then you'd make date-plum trees much more popular. Since commercial growers don't already do this for pistacios and date-plums and other dioecious species (do they???) I'm guessing the male stops producing fertile male flowers once it's grafted to a female.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 3:07AM
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Without being so technical I must say that I've seen single trees bearing seeded fruits.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 5:55AM
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floramakros(Earth CA 9)

Of course you have harbin, that's because that tree is within pollination range of an adult male tree, depending on where you live in Europe trees of both sexes are common there, they can even be found as street and park trees (same goes for the Middle East, India and other regions) In the U.S., however, less than 2% of us live near enough to adult male date-plum trees (usually located on orchards) to get a female tree pollinated. I can do it because I live in the heart of orchard country, I can also plant single female Kiwis and they will bear fruit because male vines are grown nearby, but that's a huge exception to the conditions most American gardeners have. Now if your neighbor has a male tree you're in luck, but otherwise the species is still too uncommon here for most people to benefit from proximity to male trees, you will in most cases have to plant one yourself.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 1:49PM
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If, floramakros, date plum is uncommon in the USA then it is virtually non existent in the place where I live. Single trees can be seen in arboretums and that's it. I mean persimmon (both american and asian) is not strictly dioecious and some trees can be monoecious. That means male and female flowers on one tree. Diospyros lotus is no exception and probably has more frequent occurence of monoecious trees than kaki or virginiana.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 5:25PM
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floramakros(Earth CA 9)

I don't know of a single cultivar of Diospyros lotus that isn't dioecious, if there were, dioecious varieties would be commercially nonexistant outside of the third world, farmers are looking to make their lives easier not harder, think of all the space they would save without male-only trees, their fruit yields per acre would rise dramatically. It's original native range includes parts of Europe, the Ancient Greeks actually named it, we translate it as the fruit of the gods or the wheat of Zeus, the modern name because of its taste is date-plum. It as you can tell by its name was very highly desirable, trade routes for thousands of years carried the fruit and the seeds spread to new corners of the world. You consider it small and full of seeds (I think you said inedible) because like many modern humans (especially Americans) you've been spoiled by gigantic seedless wonderfully juicy self-pollinating fruits of all description unavailable to humans in such variety and with such powerful flavors in any period in our history. There was a time, only 100 years ago, where receiving a single tiny seed-filled orange was considered a wonderful exotic Christmas present, now your kids would laugh at you (or cry! ;-) That's why heirloom varieties seem so much tarter and less sweet (undesirable) to modern human palates. You'll be growing your backyard date-plums for personal enjoyment or use, not for profit, in America at least the tastebuds of most consumers aren't used to the flavor or have never tried it to begin with. That's exactly what makes it desirable to grow for unusual fruit fanatics like the people on this forum, lol, so being "exotic" definitely has its upside. We love growing rarer species here.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 8:27PM
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Hey all,
I received 5 D. lotus from Horizon Herb in OR and repotted them last fall. I am getting ready to plant them in gound and hope I get at least one sex of each. I am using them to line my drive and hope to have fruit. I will see if bletting works because I am trying medlar as well.

Everything old is new again!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 5:53PM
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