Lowell K. Halls
Common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), also called simmon, possumwood, and Florida persimmon, is a slow-growing tree of moderate size found on a wide variety of soils and sites. Best growth is in the bottom lands of the Mississippi River Valley. The wood is close grained and sometimes used for special products requiring hardness and strength. Persimmon is much better known for its fruits, however. They are enjoyed by people as well as many species of wildlife for food. The glossy leathery leaves make the persimmon tree a nice one for landscaping, but it is not easily transplanted because of the taproot.
Diospyros virginiana L.
Pine/scrub oak sandhills (PSOS-MT), mesic pine savannas (MPS-CP), wet pine flatwoods (WPF-T), wet pine savannas (SPS-T, SPS-RF, WLPS, VWLPS).
Frequent. May–Jun ; Sep–Dec . Thornhill 283, 709 (NCSC). Specimens seen in the vicinity: Sandy Run [Patterson]: Taggart SARU 213 (WNC!). [= RAB, FNA, Weakley]
General: Ebony family (Ebenaceae). Native trees growing 5-12 (-21) meters tall; mature bark dark-gray, thick and blocky. Leaves are deciduous, simple, alternate, ovate to elliptic or oblong with smooth edges, 3.5-8 cm long, with an acuminate apex and rounded base, the lower surface usually lighter-colored, especially on young leaves. Flowers are either male (staminate) or female (pistillate), borne on separate trees (the species dioecious) on shoots of the current year after leafing; pistillate flowers solitary, sessile or short-stalked, bell-shaped, ca. 2 cm long, the corolla creamy to greenish-yellow, fragrant, usually with 4 thick, recurved lobes; staminate flowers in 2-3-flowered clusters, tubular, 8-13 mm long, greenish-yellow. Fruit is a berry 2-5 cm wide, greenish to yellowish with highly astringent pulp before ripening, turning yellowish-orange to reddish-orange and sweet in the fall, each fruit with 1-8 flat seeds. The common name, persimmon, is the American Indian word for the fruit.
Variation within the species: variants have been described but are not generally formally recognized.
Var. pubescens (Pursh) Dipp. - Fuzzy persimmon
Var. platycarpa Sarg. - Oklahoma persimmon
Var. mosieri (Small) Sarg. - Florida persimmon
Distribution: Primarily a species of the east-central and southeastern U.S., with the southeast corner of its range in Texas, reaching northeast to New York and southern Connecticut, westward through southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to Missouri and southeastern Kansas. It does not grow in the main range of the Appalachian Mountains nor in much of the oak-hickory forest of the Allegheny Plateau. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Eastern persimmon, possumwood, American ebony, white ebony, bara-bara, boa-wood, butterwood
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Occurrence in North America
MD MS MO NJ NC OH OK PA SC TN
TX VA WV
Island, New York to southern Florida. Inland it occurs in central
Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, and central Illinois to
southeastern Iowa; and southeastern Kansas and Oklahoma to the Valley of
the Colorado River in Texas. It does not grow in the main range of the
Appalachian Mountains, nor in much of the oak-hickory forest type of the
Allegheny Plateau [8,12,15].
-The native range of common perssimon.
Common persimmon grows over a wide range of conditions from dry, sterile, sandy woodlands to river bottoms to rocky hillsides. Growth is best on terraces of large streams and river bottoms with clays and heavy loams; usual sites in the Mississippi Delta are wet flats, shallow sloughs, and swamp margins. It thrives in full sun but also is shade-tolerant and can persist in the understory. It is an early pioneer on abandoned and denuded cropland and is common on roadsides and fencerows. Common persimmon often is seen as thickets (derived from root suckers) in open fields and pastures. This species flowers in March-June and fruits in September-November.
Common persimmon is a slow-growing, thicket-forming, dioecious,
deciduous tree up to 70 feet (21 m) but generally less than 40 feet (12
m) tall . It has a rounded or conical crown with the branches
spreading at right angles. The twigs are self-pruning and form an
irregular shaped crown. The leaves are simple, alternate, entire, and
elliptical to oblong. The fruit is a persistent spherical berry; each
berry contains one to eight flat seeds [10,13,31].
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Common persimmon grows on a wide variety of sites but grows best on
terraces of large streams and river bottoms. It grows best on alluvial
soils such as clays and heavy loams. In the Mississippi Delta, usual
sites are wet flats, shallow sloughs, and swamp margins. In the Midwest
it grows on poorly drained upland sites, but growth there is very slow
Common overstory associates not listed under Distribution and Occurrence
include eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), sugar maple (Acer
saccharum), yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera),, boxelder (Acer
negundo), red maple (A. rubrum), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), and
cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia). Common shrubs and noncommercial tree
associates include swamp-privet (Forestiera acuminata), rough-leaf
dogwood (Cornus drummondii), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), water-elm
(Planera acquatica), shining sumac (Rhus copallina), and smooth sumac
(R. glabra) [6,15,26].
Key Plant Community Associations
indicator of any particular habitat [6,33].
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
64 Sassafras - persimmon
70 Longleaf pine
72 Southern scrub oak
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
96 Overcup oak - water hickory
102 Baldscypress - tupelo
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
KO89 Black Belt
K090 Live oak - sea oats
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
Soils and Topography
Fruit may be produced by 10-year-old trees but optimum fruit-bearing age is 25-50 years. Good fruit crops are borne every 2 years. Seeds are dispersed by birds and animals and by overflow water in bottomlands. Persimmon is slow growing and usually does not make a large tree, although it may reach 21-24 meters tall on optimal sites. Trees have been reported to reach 150 years of age.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Persimmon in Illinois
(on staminate flowers, bees suck nectar or collect pollen, flies feed on pollen, and other insects suck nectar; on pistillate flowers, all insects suck nectar; only long-tongued bees are effective pollinators; observations are from Robertson)
On staminate flowers:
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn cp fq; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus griseocallis sn cp, Bombus impatiens sn cp, Bombus pensylvanica sn; Anthophoridae (Anthophorini): Anthophora abrupta sn cp fq; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina dupla dupla sn cp np; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Synhalonia rosae sn cp fq; Anthophoridae (Nomadini): Nomada affabilis sn; Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile mendica sn; Megachilidae (Osmiini): Osmia pumila sn
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon sericea sn cp np, Agapostemon virescens sn cp np, Augochlorella aurata cp np, Augochlorella striata sn cp np, Augochloropsis metallica metallica sn cp np, Lasioglossum coriaceus sn cp np, Lasioglossum forbesii cp np, Lasioglossum fuscipennis sn cp np fq, Lasioglossum imitatus cp np, Lasioglossum versatus cp np, Lasioglossum zephyrus cp np
Syrphidae: Allograpta obliqua fp np, Eupeodes americanus fp np, Syrphus ribesii fp np
Hesperiidae: Pompeius verna sn np
On pistillate flowers:
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera fq; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus auricomus, Bombus pensylvanica; Anthophoridae (Anthophorini): Anthophora abrupta fq; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Synhalonia rosae fq; Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile mendica; Megachilidae (Osmiini): Osmia pumila
Halictidae (Halictinae): Agapostemon virescens np, Augochlora purus np, Augochlorella striata np
Hesperiidae: Polites origenes np, Pompeius verna np
Associated Forest Cover
Common associates are elms (Ulmus spp.), eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), hickories (Carya spp.), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), oaks Quercus spp.), boxelder (Acer negundo), red maple (A. rubrum), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), and cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia).
Common shrub and noncommercial tree associates include swamp-privet (Forestiera acuminata), roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), water-elm (Planera aquatica), shining sumac (Rhus copallina), and smooth sumac (R. glabra).
In the alluvial bottoms of the Lower Wabash Valley, waterlocust (Gleditsia aquatica) and common buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) are close associates.
The Sassafras-Persimmon type is temporary and usually replaced with mixed hardwood types.
Diseases and Parasites
Cephalosporium diospyri causes persimmon wilt, a fungus disease that kills many trees in central Tennessee and the Southeastern States (1). The disease is characterized by a sudden wilting of the leaves, followed by defoliation and death of the branches from the top down. An infected tree often lives 1 or 2 years after this symptom appears. Diseased trees should be burned, and cuts and bruises on other trees should be painted to prevent entry by wind-borne spores. No disease-resistant trees have been found. A wound is necessary for primary infection. The hickory twig girdler and powderpost beetle cause the majority of wounds in healthy trees. As soon as the tree dies, the fungus produces spores in large quantities between the bark and the wood near the base of the tree.
Because common persimmon is often considered noxious in pastures and fields, much effort has been expended in its control and eradication (2). It is easily defoliated with 2,4,5-T at 1.1 kg/ha (1 lb/acre) or less but sprouts readily from both stem and roots after treatment. Treatment is most effective in May when leaves are fully expanded. Additives (Ethephon, MAA, and TIBA) increase both the defoliation and kill of persimmon. Surfactants increase effectiveness of 2,4,5-T. Picloram in combination with 2,4,5-T, and dicamba, alone and in combination with 2,4,5-T, has also given good control. Soil application of picloram and dicamba at 6.7 kg/ha (6 lb/acre) gave kills of 75 and 70 percent, respectively. Complete top kill was possible by injecting undiluted solutions of dicamba or mixtures of 2,4,5-T and dicamba.
Tordon 101 or Esteron 99 at 7.6 liters (2 gal) plus triclopyr at 9.4 liters/ha (1 gal/acre) and Tordon at 37 liters/ha (4 gal/acre) gave 100 percent control of persimmon (4).
Undiluted 2,4-D dimethylamine killed persimmon when applied in 1- or 2-ml (0.03- or 0.07-oz) dosages in injections placed edge-to-edge up to 23 cm (9 in) apart around the stem (11). A 4-to-1 mixture of triisoproponolamine salts of 2,4-D plus picloram was also effective.
Fire Management Considerations
Periodic fires have been useful in controlling common persimmon by
preventing it from reaching the overstory in southern pine forests.
However, common persimmon is known to decrease with fire exclusion .
Plant Response to Fire
Common persimmon sprouts vigorously following fire . After a summer
and winter burn in Oklahoma, common persimmon stem density increases in
postfire year 1 were as follows :
Species density (stem/ha)
summer burn late-winter burn
preburn postburn preburn postburn
542 750 17 583
Immediate Effect of Fire
that char the soil and kill the roots and rootstocks. Less severe fires
top-kill the plant .
Tree with adventitious-bud rootcrown/ soboliferous species root sucker
Initial-offsite colonizer (offsite, initial community)
Common persimmon is well adapted to fire. It sprouts readily from the
roots and root crown when aboveground portions are killed by fire
Common persimmon reproduces vegetatively and by seed. The optimum
fruit-bearing age is 25 to 50 years, but 10-year-old trees sometimes
bear fruit. Good seed crops are borne every 2 years, with light crops
in intervening years [28,30]. The seed is disseminated by birds and
animals that feed on the fruits, and to some extent, by overflow water
in low bottomlands .
Vegetative Reproduction: Common persimmon will sprout from the stump or
develop from root suckers. Sprouting from the root collar is common
after fire or cutting .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Obligate Initial Community Species.
Common persimmon is very tolerant of shade. It can persist in the
understory for many years. Its response to release is not definitely
known but probably not very good. Common persimmon competes very well
with almost any plant under harsh conditions.
Reaction to Competition
Life History and Behavior
The flowers of common persimmon bloom from March to June; its fruit
ripens from September to November .
Trees may be grafted by chip budding, cleft grafting, or whip grafting. Nursery stock should be set about 15 cm (6 in) apart and root pruned each year. Stock 1 to 2 years old may be transplanted, but this should be done in moist deep soil because of the deep root system (15).
Stumps sprout readily and thickets of shrubby persimmon develop from root suckers. Sprouting from the root collar after fires is common. Seedlings or suckers are difficult to transplant.
Flowering, Seed Production, and Dissemination
Pistillate flowers are solitary, sessile or shortpeduncled, about 1.9 cm (0.75 in) long. The corolla is fragrant with 4 or 5 greenish yellow, thick recurved lobes.
Common persimmon is dioecious; the staminate and pistillate flowers are borne on separate trees on shoots of the current year, when the leaves are more than half grown.
The fruit is a persistent spherical berry 1.9 to 5.1 cm (0.8 to 2.0 in) in diameter. It ripens from September to November or occasionally a little earlier. When mature it is yellow to orange or dark red in color, often with a glaucous bloom. Each berry usually contains one to eight flat, brown seeds about 13 mm (0.5 in) long but is sometimes seedless. Fruits fall from September to late winter.
The optimum fruit-bearing age is 25 to 50 years, but 10-year-old trees sometimes bear fruit. Good crops are borne about every 2 years under normal conditions. About 45 kg (100 lb) of fruit yields 4.5 to 13.6 kg (10 to 30 lb) of clean seed, with an average of 2,640 seeds per kg (1,200 seeds per lb). The seed is disseminated by birds and animals that feed on the fruits, and, to some extent, by overflow water in low bottom lands (9). The seeds remain dormant during winter and germinate in April or May, after about a month of soil temperatures above 15° C (60° F).
Persimmon is easily raised from seed, and if planting is to be done with seeds, they should be cleaned and spread out for drying for a day or two and then stratified under moist conditions for 2 to 3 months at 1° to 4° C (33° to 40° F). They should be soaked 2 to 3 days before planting. Seeds lose their viability through extremes of heat, cold, or drying. They should be planted in spring or fall in shallow drills in light soils with plenty of humus and covered to a depth of about 13 min (0.5 in).
No insects or animals are known to damage flowers or fruit seriously. Late freeze can damage the flowers and cause premature fruit drop.
Growth and Yield
Approximately 50 percent of the total radial growth is complete in 70 to 90 days, and 90 percent complete in 100 to 109 days after growth starts in the spring (6). Persimmon responds well to fertilizer.
The species normally attains a height of 9 to 18 m (30 to 60 ft) at maturity but in optimum habitats may reach a height of 21 to 24 rn (70 to 80 ft) and a diameter of 51 to 61 cm (20 to 24 in). It usually forms an upright or drooping type tree with a rounded or conical crown. Stems may be clumped, either because seedlings develop in close proximity to one another or because they arise from suckers after a tree has been cut down. The leaves are deciduous, simple, alternate, and entire. The bark is brown to black, fissures are deep, and ridges are broken into rectangular checkered sections.
Per acre volume figures for this species are not available because it usually grows as scattered individuals.
Tops of orchard grown trees should be thinned to allow for better fruit production.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Hybrids have been reported between D. uirginiana, D. kaki, and D. lotus (14).
Several cultivars, selected primarily for fruit color, taste, size, and early maturation, have been chosen from wild populations (8).
Barcode data: Diospyros virginiana
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Diospyros virginiana
Public Records: 6
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
Dense thickets of common persimmon are considered a nuisance in open
fields and pastures. On abandoned fields, where persimmon is an
invader, it is classed as a weed species because it fails to reach
commercial size . Common persimmon is easily defoliated with a 20
percent solution of Garlon 4 but will sprout readily from the stems and
roots after treatment. Treatment is most effective in May when leaves
are fully expanded [4,19,27].
Damaging agents: The principal defoliators of common persimmom are the
webworm (Seiarctica echo) and the hickory horned devil (Citheronia
regalis). The fungus Cephalosporium diospyri causes persimmon wilt and
kills many trees in the Southeast. The disease is characterized by a
wilting of the leaves followed by defoliation and death of the branches
from the top down. An infected tree lives 1 or 2 years after the
wilting appears. Diseased trees should be burned, and bruises on
healthy tree should be covered with pitch or wax to prevent entry by
wind-borne spores [15,30].
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Common persimmon usually is considered undesirable by growers of closely managed timber stands. It has been controlled by prescribed burns but is also known to decrease with fire exclusion. Roots and rootstocks are killed by severe fires that char the soil; less severe fires top-kill the plant. Vigorous sprouts are produced from the root collar following top-kill by fire or after cutting. Deer occasionally browse the sprouts but cattle usually avoid them. Thickets from root suckers and collar sprouts in pastures may be problematic. Various herbicides are used to kill the plants.
The principal natural defoliators of common persimmon are the webworm (Seiarctica echo) and the hickory horned devil (Citheronia regalis). Small branches severed by a twig girdler (Oncideres cingulata) are often encountered – these wounds allow entry of a wilt fungus, Cephalosporium diospyri, which kills many trees in the southeastern US. An infected tree lives 1-2 years after the wilting appears. Diseased trees should be burned and bruises on healthy trees should be covered with pitch or wax to prevent entry by wind-borne spores.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Uses: Fruit, MEDICINE/DRUG, Building materials/timber
Comments: The fruit (persimmon) is commonly eaten and the wood is employed chiefly in the manufacture of weaver's shuttles.
Other uses and values
in the treatment of fever, diarrhea, and hemorrhage. Indelible ink can
also be made from the fruit. Common persimmon is sometimes planted as
an ornamental; the flowers are used in the production of honey [30,36].
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
for erosion control. It is, however, difficult to transplant .
Propagation is by seed stratified at 41 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (5-10
deg C) for 365 days and sown in the spring. Germination is about 80
percent. Root cuttings 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) long and 1/3 inch (0.85
cm) in diameter can also be used provided the ends are sealed with pitch
or wax to prevent rot .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
important supplementary fall and winter food for white-tailed deer
[29,34]. The fruit is an important food for squirrel, fox, coyote,
racoon, opossum, and quail [7,22]. Hogs relish the fruit of common
persimmon, but it is of little value to other livestock and is
considered a nuisance .
Wood Products Value
used for turnery, plane stocks, veneer, golf club heads, and
occasionally low-grade lumber [8,36].
protein, crude fat, and calcim, but high in nitrogen-free extract and
Persimmon is sometimes planted for its edible fruit. Dried fruit is added to baked goods and occasionally is fermented with hops, cornmeal, or wheat bran into a sort of beer. The dried, roasted, ground seeds have been used as a substitute for coffee.
Several cultivars are available with improved fruit size and quality. In native persimmon areas, top working or grafting on suckers is a good way to get superior cultivars into bearing quickly. One staminate tree seems sufficient to pollinate at least 23 pistillate trees of the same race (8). The pulp is very astringent when not ripe, but after a frost in the fall, when the fruit turns yellow orange, the flesh is pleasing in taste (12). The fruit is eaten by many species of song birds, also by the skunk, raccoon, opossum, gray and fox squirrels, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, bobwhite, crows, rabbits, hogs, and cattle (5). It may, however, cause sickness in livestock. Deer browse readily on persimmon sprouts, but cattle graze them only lightly.
Seeds and fruits are generally low in crude protein, crude fat, and calcium but high in nitrogen-free extract and tannin (13).
The inner bark and unripe fruit are sometimes used in treatment of fevers, diarrhea, and hemorrhage. Indelible ink is made from fruit.
Persimmon is valued as an ornamental because of its hardiness, adaptability to a wide range of soils and climates, its lustrous leaves, its abundant crop of fruits, and its immunity from disease and insects. It has been introduced into Europe.
The tree is suitable for erosion control on deeper soils because of its deep root system, but this same characteristic makes it difficult to plant.
Persimmon is considered a woody weed in unimproved pastures, and it prevents many areas from being grazed effectively. Inoculation of persimmon stumps with a fungus (Cephalosporium diospyri) was found to be an effective means of preventing subsequent sprouting.
Persimmon flowers are useful in the production of honey.
Common persimmon is sometimes used as an ornamental for its hardiness, adaptability to a wide range of soils and climates, and immunity from disease and insects. Moist, well-drained soils provide best conditions but the plant will tolerate hot, dry, poor soils, including various city conditions. The species is rarely sold commercially, however. The leaves are glossy and leathery and may be yellow or reddish-purple in the fall. Several cultivars have been selected primarily for fruit color, taste, size, and early maturation; several are seedless. Budded or grafted trees are a sure way of getting a desired type. Common persimmon sends down a deep taproot, which makes it a good species for erosion control but makes it difficult to transplant.
The wood of common persimmon is hard, smooth, and even textured. The hardness and shock resistance make it ideal for textile shuttles and heads for driver golf clubs. The heartwood is used for veneer and specialty items, but most of commercially used persimmon is reported to consist of sapwood.
Unripe fruit and inner bark have been used in the treatment of fever, diarrhea, and hemorrhage. The fruits are used in puddings, cookies, cakes, custard, and sherbet; the dried, roasted, ground seeds have been used as a substitute for coffee. Flowers produce nectar significant for bees in honey production. Leaves and twigs of common persimmon are eaten in fall and winter by white-tailed deer. The fruit is eaten by squirrel, fox, skunk, deer, bear, coyote, raccoon, opossum, and various birds, including quail, wild turkey, cedar waxwing, and catbird.
Diospyros virginiana is a persimmon species commonly called the American Persimmon, Common Persimmon, Eastern Persimmon, "'Simmon", "Possumwood", or "Sugar-plum". It ranges from southern Connecticut/Long Island to Florida, and west to Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The tree grows wild but has been cultivated for its fruit and wood since prehistoric times by Native Americans.
Diospyros virginiana grows through 20 m (66 ft), in well-drained soil. In summer, this species produces fragrant flowers which are dioecious, so one must have both male and female plants to obtain fruit. Most cultivars are parthenocarpic (setting seedless fruit without pollination). The flowers are pollinated by insects and wind. Fruiting typically begins when the tree is about 6 years old.
The fruit is round or oval and usually orange-yellow and sometimes bluish and from 2 through 6 cm (0.79 through 2.4 in) in diameter. In the U.S. South and Midwest, the fruits are referred to as simply Persimmons or "'Simmons", and are popular in desserts and cuisine.
Commercial varieties include the very productive Early Golden, the productive John Rick, Miller, Woolbright and the Ennis, a seedless variety. Another nickname of the American Persimmon, 'Date-plum' also refers to a persimmon species found in South Asia, Diospyros lotus.
It is a small tree usually 30 through 80 feet (10 through 24 meters) in height, with a short, slender trunk and spreading, often pendulous branches, which form a broad or narrow, round-topped canopy. The roots are thick, fleshy and stoloniferous. This species as has a shrubby growth form. This plant has oval entire leaves, and unisexual flowers on short stalks. In the male flowers, which are numerous, the stamens are sixteen in number and arranged in pairs; the female flowers are solitary, with traces of stamens, and a smooth ovary with one ovule in each of the eight cells—the ovary is surmounted by four styles, which are hairy at the base. The fruit-stalk is very short, bearing a subglobose fruit an inch in diameter or a bit larger, of an orange-yellow color, ranging to bluish, and with a sweetish astringent pulp. It is surrounded at the base by the persistent calyx-lobes, which increase in size as the fruit ripens. The astringency renders the fruit somewhat unpalatable, but after it has been subjected to the action of frost, or has become partially rotted or "bletted" like a medlar, its flavor is improved.
- Bark: Dark brown or dark gray, deeply divided into plates whose surface is scaly. Branchlets slender, zigzag, with thick pith or large pith cavity; at first light reddish brown and pubescent. They vary in color from light brown to ashy gray and finally become reddish brown, the bark somewhat broken by longitudinal fissures. Astringent and bitter.
- Wood: Very dark; sapwood yellowish white; heavy, hard, strong and very close grained. Specific gravity, 0.7908; weight of cubic foot, 49.28 lb (22.35 kg). The heartwood is a true ebony. Forestry texts indicate that about a century of growth is required before a tree will produce a commercially viable yield of ebony wood.
- Winter buds: Ovate, acute, one-eighth of an inch long, covered with thick reddish or purple scales. These scales are sometimes persistent at the base of the branchlets.
- Leaves: Alternate, simple, four to six inches (152 mm) long, oval, narrowed or rounded or cordate at base, entire, acute or acuminate. They come out of the bud revolute, thin, pale, reddish green, downy with ciliate margins, when full grown are thick, dark green, shining above, pale and often pubescent beneath. In autumn they sometimes turn orange or scarlet, sometimes fall without change of color. Midrib broad and flat, primary veins opposite and conspicuous. Petioles stout, pubescent, one-half to an inch in length.
- Flowers: May, June, when leaves are half-grown; diœcious or rarely polygamous. Staminate flowers borne in two to three-flowered cymes; the pedicels downy and bearing two minute bracts. Pistillate flowers solitary, usually on separate trees, their pedicels short, recurved, and bearing two bractlets.
- Calyx: Usually four-lobed, accrescent under the fruit.
- Corolla: Greenish yellow or creamy white, tubular, four-lobed; lobes imbricate in bud.
- Stamens: Sixteen, inserted on the corolla, in staminate flowers in two rows. Filaments short, slender, slightly hairy; anthers oblong, introrse, two-celled, cells opening longitudinally. In pistillate flowers the stamens are eight with aborted anthers, rarely these stamens are perfect.
- Pistil: Ovary superior, conical, ultimately eight-celled; styles four, slender, spreading; stigma two-lobed.
- Fruit: A juicy berry containing one to eight seeds, crowned with the remnants of the style and seated in the enlarged calyx; depressed-globular, pale orange color, often red-cheeked; with slight bloom, turning yellowish brown after freezing. Flesh astringent while green, sweet and luscious when ripe.
The tree is very common in the South Atlantic and Gulf states, and attains its largest size in the basin of the Mississippi River. Its habitat is southern, it appears along the coast from New York to Florida; west of the Alleghenies it is found in southern Ohio and along through southeastern Iowa and southern Missouri; when it reaches Louisiana, eastern Kansas and Oklahoma it becomes a mighty tree, one hundred fifteen feet high.
D. virginiana is believed to be an evolutionary remnant of the megafauna that roamed the North American continent until 10,000 years ago and would have eaten the fruit, assisting in its dispersal. However, as it is attractive to raccoons, rodents, and smaller animals, the loss of large grazing herbivores and omnivores in historical times has not seriously affected the tree's survival strategy as compared to Kentucky Coffeetree and Osage Orange which are inedible to most extant wildlife and saw their ranges greatly diminish without mastodons and other dispersal agent fauna.
The peculiar characteristics of its fruit have made the tree well known. This fruit is a globular berry, with variation in the number of seeds, sometimes with eight and sometimes without any. It bears at its apex the remnants of the styles and sits in the enlarged and persistent calyx. It ripens in late autumn, is pale orange with a red cheek, often covered with a slight glaucous bloom. One joke among Southerners is to induce strangers to taste unripe persimmon fruit, as its very astringent bitterness is shocking to those unfamiliar with it. Folklore states that frost is required to make it edible, but fully ripened fruit lightly shaken from the tree or found on the ground below the tree is sweet, juicy and delicious. The peculiar astringency of the fruit is due to the presence of a tannin similar to that of Cinchona. The seeds were used as buttons during the American Civil War.
The fruit is high in vitamin C. The unripe fruit is extremely astringent. The ripe fruit may be eaten raw, cooked or dried. Molasses can be made from the fruit pulp. A tea can be made from the leaves and the roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute. Other popular uses include desserts such as persimmon pie, persimmon pudding, or persimmon candy.
The tree prefers light, sandy, well-drained soil, but will grow in rich, southern, bottom lands. It can be grown in northern Ohio only with the greatest of care, and in southern Ohio its fruit is never edible until after frost.
The tree is greatly inclined to vary in the character and quality of its fruit, in size this varies from that of a small cherry to a small apple. Some trees in the south produce fruit that is delicious without the action of the frost, while adjoining trees produce fruit that never becomes edible.
It was brought to England before 1629 and is cultivated, but rarely if ever ripens its fruit. It is easily raised from seed and can also be propagated from stolons, which are often produced in great quantity. The tree is hardy in the south of England and in the Channel Islands.
In respect to the power of making heartwood, the persimmon rarely develops any heartwood until it is nearly one hundred years old. This heartwood is extremely close-grained and almost black, resembling ebony (of which it is a true variety).
It is a common misconception persimmon fruit needs frost to ripen and soften. Some, such as the early-ripening varieties "pieper" and "NC21"(also known as "supersweet"), easily lose astringency and become completely free of it when slightly soft at the touch—these are then very sweet, even in the British climate. On the other hand, some varieties (like the very large fruited "yates", which is a late ripening variety) remain astringent even when the fruit has become completely soft (at least in the British climate). Frost, however, destroys the cells within the fruit, causing it to rot instead of ripen. Only completely ripe and soft fruit can stand some frost; it will then dry and become even sweeter (hence the misconception). The same goes for the oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki), where early frost can severely damage a fruit crop.
- USDA GRIN taxonomy
- USDA PLANTS database
- Phillips, Jan (1979). Wild Edibles of Missouri. Jefferson City, Missouri: Missouri Department of Conservation. p. 40.
- Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 195–199.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Persimmon". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Dodge, David (1886). "Domestic Economy in the Confederacy". The Atlantic Monthly 58 (August): 229–241.
- The ebony of commerce is derived from five different tropical species of the genus, two from India and one each from Africa, Malaya and Mauritius. The beautiful variegated coromandel wood is the product of a species found in Ceylon.
Names and Taxonomy
. Varieties include [10,24,36]:
D. virginiana L. var. virginiana - typical common persimmon
D. virginiana var. pubescens (Pursch) Dipp. - fuzzy common persimmon
D. virginiana var. platycarpa Sarg. - Oklahoma common persimmon
D. virginiana var. mosieri (Small) Sarg. - Florida persimmon
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