MOUNT VERNON, Mo. -- Ask most people to list fruit trees and the list will start with apples and will probably fall short of listing persimmons or paw-paw.
A few people are making money from persimmons and paw-paw, and others are developing improved varieties to stimulate more interest.
Andrew Thomas, horticulturist at the University of Missouri Southwest Center at Mount Vernon, has 21 persimmon trees at the center. He seeks different varieties to find those with most promise for improved fruit and production.
"There is a difference, as much as day and night, between horticulture varieties and wild persimmons," Thomas said. "Wild persimmons are smaller and can have nine or 10 seeds per fruit, while the improved varieties will have one or two seeds and have bigger and more flavorful fruit and ripen evenly."
Thomas and Pat Byers, a horticulturist at Southwest Missouri State University's fruit experiment station at Mountain Grove, Mo., attended the first North American Persimmon Conference in late September in Terra Haute, Ind.
At the conference they met Jim Claypool of St. Elmo, Ill., who is recognized as the guru of persimmon research. His farm has thousands of persimmon trees growing in long rows.
He has secured no patents and gives free scion wood to graft onto native trees to improve quality. His trees are identified by letters and numbers.
Thomas came home with a sack of Claypool B101 seed. This version would be used to develop improved persimmon root stock on which to graft improved production, he said.
There is a market for persimmons, Thomas said. A woman at the conference told of working 35 years putting persimmon pulp into tin cans to sell to supplement family income. "She sells all she cans," he said.
The Indiana woman sells the pulp to customers in New York City and other locations.
Thomas said the conference included sampling tastes of persimmon ice cream, wine, pudding and cookies. The wine maker said he gets $20 a bottle and needs persimmons.
Thomas sees Branson as a potential outlet for such products, since persimmon trees are native to Missouri.
Thomas attended another conference this fall in Frankfort, Ky. The session was sponsored by Kentucky State University and the Pawpaw Foundation.
The university and foundation combine to do research with thousands of paw-paw trees.
Paw-paw research at Mount Vernon is to be coordinated with the Kerr Center in Oklahoma, SMSU at Mountain Grove, and on a smaller scale with the University of Missouri horticulture center at New Franklin, Mo.
Mount Vernon, Mountain Grove and the Kerr Center will each have 99 trees. Those at Mount Vernon were planted in March from trees started in 2001 and grafted in early spring 2002 at Mountain Grove.
The study will look at eight varieties and include paw-paw trees planted as a border to be used for grafting.
Most paw-paw potential markets are for fresh fruit or ice cream. The pulp can be used in bread, puddings and smoothies drinks, Thomas said. Pulp can be frozen for more than a year.