What is Diospyros Virginiana?
Also known as Common Persimmon, American Persimmon, 'simmon', eastern persimmon, 'possum apples', 'possum wood' or 'sugar plum', Diospyros virginiana is of the persimmon plant species. Although the plant is wild, it was first cultivated by native Americans during the prehistoric times.
Native Persimmon is cultivated in Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Long Island, Connecticut, Louisiana, Iowa and Kansas. The Common Persimmon fruits find use in cuisines and desserts. Diospyros virginiana cultivars range from those that lose their fruit stringency when soft and those that don't.
Diospyros Virginiana Description
American Persimmon is a small tree that grows up to 80 feet tall. Its trunk is short and slender with pendulous branches that spread, creating a narrow or broad canopy that's round at the top. The tree has stoloniferous, thick and fleshy roots. It is shrub-like with oval leaves and short stalks that bud unisexual flowers.
The male flowers are many with up to 16 stamens growing in pairs. On the other hand, the solitary, female American Persimmon flowers have a few stamens and smooth ovaries. The ovaries have eight cells, each with an ovule. Four hairy styles surround the ovaries at the base.
The short Possum Apple stalk bud subglobose fruits. The fruits range in color from bluish to yellow to orange. The tree also produces sweet, astringent pulp, making the American Persimmon fruit unpalatable. The calyx-lobes at the base grow in size with the ripening of the fruit.
The flavor of the Diospyros virginiana fruit improves with frost action, partial rotting, or medlar-like bletting. The bark of the tree ranges in color from dark gray to reddish brown to dark brown, with deep, scaly plates on the surface. It is bitter and astringent, resembling the Black Tulepo or Black Gum trees in winter; scaly, square boxes on the back of the tree.
The sapwood is hard, heavy and strong, with wood tone ranging from yellow-white to a darker, shade. Winter buds are acute, ovate and grows up to an eighth inches long. Thick, purple or reddish scales are found on the buds or base of the branchlets.
The simple, alternate leaves grow up to six inches long. The narrow, oval leaves are also round at the base and pubescent beneath. The leaves range in color from reddish green to dark green, turning scarlet or orange in autumn. They have flat, broad midribs and noticeable veins. The stout petioles grow up to one inch long.
The staminate flowers feature short, downy pedicels. Accrescented beneath the fruit, the calyx has four lobes just like the tubular corolla. The latter ranges in color from creamy white to greenish yellow, with the lobes imbricated in the buds.
Housed in the corolla, each staminate flower has 16 stamens with slightly hairy, short and slender filaments. It also features oblong anthers. On the other hand, pistillate flowers have aborted anthers and only eight stamens. Its conical, superior ovary has four slender styles and a two-lobed stigma.
The juicy berry fruit sits on the calyx and has eight seeds. It has a red cheek and is often pale orange in color, but if frozen turns yellowish-brown. When green, the fruit has an astringent flesh, becoming luscious sweet upon ripening.
Diospyros virginiana Distribution
Native Persimmon is believed to have evolved from a native plant in North America that existed over 10,000 years ago. It is largely distributed along the Mississippi River, the Gulf states and South Atlantic, Southern Missouri and southeastern Iowa, Florida, Connecticut, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alaska, among other areas.
Common Persimmon Cultivation
The Diospyros tree thrives in the southern in rich, sandy yet light, well-drained soils. The fruit varies in size and is edible after frost. It is cultivated in England where it's believed to have been brought in 1629. It's hardy in the Channel Islands and southern England, but the fruit rarely ripens.
Common Persimmon Trees and Fruits
Native Persimmon is propagated from stolons and seeds. At 100 years, the tree develops heartwood, a closely-grained, almost black wood that looks like ebony. The American Persimmon tree produces dioecious fragrant flowers in summer.
Most Diospyros virginiana cultivars are parthenocarpic, hence female and male plants are required to produce fruits with seeds. The tree fruits 6 years after planting. American Persimmon pollination occurs through wind and insects.
Diospyros virginiana Uses
The American Persimmon fruit is rich in tannin. During the American Civil War, the Common Persimmon seeds were utilized as buttons. The fruit is also rich in Vitamin C and can be cooked, eaten raw or even dried. The Native Persimmon fruit pulp can be used to make molasses. Roasted Diospyros virginiana seeds are a perfect alternative to coffee.
The American Persimmon leaves can be used to make a type of tea. Persimmon pudding, Persimmon pie and Persimmon candy are common desserts made using the fruits of the free. If fermented with cornmeal, hops or wheat bran, the fruit can be used to process brandy or beer. Diospyros virginiana wood is closely-grained, strong and heavy and thus used in wood-turning.
Have you always dreamed of growing Diospyros virginiana from seeds at home, but not sure where to start?
Check out our planters and raised beds to get you started with growing Common Persimmon from your own garden.