The second-largest native fruit in central Ohio--the often overlooked persimmon--is a delicious addition to edible gardens. Persimmon trees typically grow to 30-50’ tall with a neat, oval habit and low-hanging branches in a wide range of soils and full or part sun. Under poor conditions, the tree may be more of a shrub at around 15’ tall. Creamy-white flowers, glossy green leaves that turn red-orange in autumn, and unusually delicious orange pomes that ripen in late fall, give this tree ample beauty and wildlife value. The plants need both male and female trees for fruiting to occur, which usually begins in 5-7 years. Though the fruits are smaller than the familiar Asian fruits sold in stores, native persimmons are similar to hachiya persimmons; both are intensely astringent until fully ripe, which often doesn’t occur until the first frost. When the flesh ripens to a jelly-like pulp, the custardy center has flavorful notes of caramel, tangerine, and heavy cream.
“Persimmon” is a phonetic rendering of a word that Algonquins used for the tree. Diospyros means "fruit or wheat of the gods" and virginiana translates to "from Virginia." Opossums love the fruits, giving the tree another common name, possum wood.
Found mostly in southern Ohio, persimmon trees often grow along fence rows and in abandoned fields. In naturalized areas, they may sucker to form colonies. Often grown as an ornamental or fruit tree in many types of gardens, such as edible, pollinator, rain, or native. Choose your planting site carefully because the deep taproot makes it difficult to transplant. The fruit can be messy if allowed to fall on sidewalks or lawns.
It grows best in moist, well-drained, sandy soils in full sun to partial shade; however, it tolerates hot or dry conditions, poor soils, pollution, and wind.
Grows 30-50’ tall with a spread of 20-35’. In ideal conditions, trees may be 100’ tall.
Prefers full sun but tolerates part shade.
Grows best in moist, well-drained, sandy soils, in acid-to-alkaline loam, but adapts to clay, poor or seasonally wet soil, pollution, wind and hot or dry conditions.
Tubular male and creamy white, four-lobed female flowers appear May-June, followed by orange-red, 1-2” fruits that remain hanging after the leaves have fallen and ripen in October-December.
Pale, reddish-green leaves emerge from buds and grow into an oblong shape, four to six inches long, with mostly smooth edges and shiny, dark green surfaces, turning orange or reddish purple in fall or sometimes fading to light green.
Short, slender trunk has black bark that is deeply blocked and looks like alligator hide.
Host plant to approximately 50 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the luna moth (pictured here with its caterpilar), and three specialist moths that feed exclusively on the leaves of persimmon: large necklace, Hypocala adromena, and Coptodisca diospyriella. Nectar from the flowers are a significant food resource for bees and other pollinators. Deer go to great lengths to seek out persimmon trees for the falling or low-hanging fruits. Other consumers include squirrels, foxes, raccoons, opossums, quails, wild turkeys, cedar waxwings, and catbirds.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
The fruit is high in vitamins C and A, and also provides thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, and phosphorous. Persimmons are also valued for their antioxidant qualities, high fiber content, and possible anti-inflammatory abilities. The fruits have been dried and used to make tea for addressing flatulence, reflux and other gastrointestinal imbalances.
The fruits must be fully ripe to avoid an astringent flavor. Ripe fruits will be very soft and will either fall on their own or when the tree is shaken. Ideal for compotes, jams, pudding cakes, cookies, and also as ingredients in savory dishes. The dried, roasted seeds were used during the Civil War as a substitute for coffee. The seeds also served as buttons in the south during the war.
Persimmon wood, which is heavy, strong, and very close-grained, is used in woodturning. The heartwood, which may take a century before being produced, is a true ebony (extremely close-grained and almost black). Once harvested, the ebony is used to make exceptional-quality golf club heads and billiard cues.
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