The slender native common persimmon tree, Diospyros virginiana, with fabulous fall foliage and flaxen fruit is a picturesque ornamental landscape tree.
The common persimmon is naturally found across the eastern U.S. from New England to Florida and west to Kansas and Texas. The hardy tree can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4-9.
The tree adapts to a wide range of habitats: bottomland swamps, upland forest, pinewoods, sandy dry scrub zones, old abandoned fields, and along roadsides.
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In rich moist conditions, the deciduous tree with a pyramidal or rounded-oval crown has a medium growth rate and matures to 60 feet but in poor soils, it usually reaches 20-30 feet at a slow growth rate.
The glossy leathery 3-6 inch long dark green elliptical simple leaves of summer turn fashionably yellow, red, and purple in fall.
The edible plum-sized fleshy fruit, botanically a berry, ripens in November from green to shades of yellow-red and golden-orange with spots of purple and black.
Inconspicuous fragrant yellow bell-shaped flowers appear in spring. Male and female flowers are on separate trees; hence, only female trees provide fruit.
In winter the tree is easy to identify by the thick dark grey bark with deep fissures broken into square blocks like the hide on an alligator.
Common persimmon has a deep taproot system making it difficult to transplant. However, the deep roots allow for underplanting with showy shrubs like azaleas, hydrangeas, viburnum, and evergreen specimens of distylium, cleyera, and holly.
Most homeowners acquire persimmons by luck. It came with the property and may continue to pop-up from seed or suckers. The native tree is not easy to find at local garden centers and must be searched at native plant nurseries like Woodlanders or in the wild.
There have been a number of varieties of native persimmon selected and named for consumers. A few of the varieties are:
Persimmons thrive in sun or partial shade. Fertilizer is not required for wild persimmons. Prune only to remove dead or injured limbs.
Pests and diseases are minimal. Diseases include fungal leaf spot, twig dieback, and powdery mildew. Scale, psyllid, leaf rolling, and defoliating caterpillars and persimmon borers are insect pests to scout for.
Animals disperse persimmon seed. Natural germination occurs in spring.
When gardeners start persimmon from seeds they either stratify the seed for 2-3 months in moist vermiculite at 50°F or sow seed 2 inches deep directly in the ground, mulch the bed, and expect spring germination.
Seed is the easiest way to propagate persimmon but root cuttings can be made. Named cultivars are grafted onto rootstock since persimmons do not come true to seed.
‘Persimmon’ is the Algonquin Indian language name for the fruit. The straw-colored sapwood has the marketing names of white ebony, boa wood, and butter wood. There are many other common names found in the literature: American ebony, American persimmon, Eastern persimmon, Florida persimmon, bara-bara, possumwood, Virginia date palm, Virginia plum, and date plum.
The tree belongs in a woodland setting or backyard wildlife habitat where both humans and wild animals can use its fruit and shelter. Squirrels shovel persimmon leaves into their mouths to carry skyward to line their nests. Bear, coyote, deer, fox, hogs, opossum, raccoon, skunk, and squirrels eat the fruit. Game birds like wild turkey and quail eat fallen fruit, as do passerines like catbirds, mockingbirds, and cedar waxwings.
The exquisite lunar moth uses Diospyros virginiana as both host and nectar plants.
Females lay eggs singly or in clusters on the top and bottom surfaces of persimmon leaves.
Beekeepers appreciate persimmons since the flowers produce enough nectar for bees in honey production.
The tree provides summer shade and makes a beautiful accent tree or understory tree. Fall is the season most humans take notice of its attractive attributes and make use of its fruits either fresh off the tree or in recipes.
Because of persimmon’s tolerance to city conditions and salt, municipalities plant male trees in parks and along roadsides.
Early settlers thought more about the everyday uses of the trees in their landscape than contemporary folks do. The persimmon tree has dense strong wood, which is characteristic of Ebony family members.
Craftsmen use the shock-resistant sapwood to make spindles, bobbins, shuttles, golf-club heads, billiard cues, tool handles, and shoe lasts. The nail holding capacity made it excellent for making wooden boxes and crates.
The dark heartwood is used in furniture veneer and decorative trim.
The common persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, feeds the senses in the fall landscape.