Diospyros virginiana

Also written by Lindsay:

Thank you to Marie Viljoen@Flickr (and also of the weblog, 66 Square Feet) for capturing this lovely late autumn image (original image | Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool)! As Marie notes in the text accompanying the photograph on Flickr, this was photographed during a foraging excursion with Steve Brill.

Known as common or American persimmon, Michael Dirr describes Diospyros virginiana in his authoritative Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs as: “[a] native species [that] will never win a landscape beauty contest”. Despite an unattractiveness to ornamental horticulture, this eastern North American species is a relative to the southwest Asian and southeast European species bearing the “fruit of the gods”, Diospyros lotus. The word diospyros is a combination of the Greek word roots dios, divine, and pyros, wheat.

The fruit of American persimmon is a little tougher to negotiate than Diospyros lotus, however, having an unpleasant, astringent taste if eaten when not completely ripe. Depending on the tribe, southern nations of the Anishinaabe peoples of eastern North America called Diospyros virginiana “putchamin”, “pasiminan”, or “pessamin”. These first nations also taught early European settlers of what was to be the eastern USA that the fruit ought to be harvested after the first frost, when the fruits become sweeter. Today, Diospyros kaki, or Japanese persimmon, is the most widely cultivated species.

Diospyros virginiana

29 responses to “Diospyros virginiana”

  1. nancy

    There are few sights so arresting in our deep south as a late fall persimmon tree – leafless, black-barked and loaded with bright orange fruits. The best fruits are not the bland kaki, which can be eaten at any stage, but the large, acorn-shaped fruit – best eaten when the fruit resembles a plastic bag full of jello. Delicious beyond description!

  2. Corrina

    Marie!!! Fancy seeing you here! Thanks for posting the cool photo. These photos are often one of the brightest spots of my day. We just planted a few persimmons at Socrates Sculpture Park a year or so ago. Now I need to go check them out.

  3. Alice

    I’m a child of the South, and remember “foraging” for persimmons in the woods near my home. But woe is he who tries to eat one before the first frost. Csn you say “Pucker up big time”? After the frost they’re delicious!

  4. Marie

    I am thrilled that a picture of mine is the photo of day! So cool. This is plant geek heaven for me and a wonderful resource…
    Corrina! I’m so impressed that you guys already planted these – I came to them lately and am planning some for a little park on East Houston Street…All native and as much edible as possible. I’d love to get in touch with you.

  5. Bryan

    I used to grow these when I lived in New Jersey. They are super sweet and delicious, and make a great persimmon-black walnut bread!!!

  6. john

    not ornamental? well, you can’t argue with…
    one of my favorite trees!
    have over fifty planted on several acres. wood was once used for shuttle-cocks.
    unique in that the sap wood is more useful than the heartwood- i seem to recall…not amnesia i hope. i’ve turned it and used it for turning chisel handles.

  7. Robin

    When I lived in Maryland, our house looked out over a field with an aged, craggy persimmon tree just uphill from a creek. Beneath the tree? A large fox den. Fast food and running water! Fall was especially colorful there!

  8. mike

    And I bet Bobby Jones’s driver and fairway woods were all machined from beautiful American persimmon. Too bad that we have turned to titanium and other unobtainium space age materials to hit a little golf ball with.

  9. Eric La Fountaine

    I have never developed a taste for persimmon–even when fully ripe, but I have a fond memory of my neighbor’s tree when I lived in Atlanta. I would frequently find opposums sitting in the tree in the evening. I have heard of this connection before. This was some years back, but I seem to remember finding them in the tree often even when it was not in fruit.

  10. Elizabeth Rall

    Persimmons make a wonderful “plum(or Christmas)pudding”!

  11. Bill Barnes

    A couple of points for clearification. D. kaki comes in a variety of cultivars , some can be eaten out of hand regardless of ripeness , others cannot and will give the same reward as a D. virginiana if not butter soft ripe . Puckering ones mouth is not even an adequate description of the sensation caused by unripe persimmons . Second , D. virginiana comes at least in two natural forms , one varitey has fruit that is tomatoe shaped and somewhat flat, as pictured above . The other , found in Northern Florida has fruit that is ovoid and elongated and does not resemble its sister form in any way .The ovoid form is also much smaller and generally lacks that checkered board bark pattern found on the tomatoe shaped forms. They also taste differently. I am not aware that botanists have catagorized the two forms but growing up in rural North Florida I know of what I speak.

  12. Cambree

    I love persimmons! My favorite is “fuyu” variety grown here in California.
    I didn’t know about wild persimmon picking in the South. That sounds like lots of fun.
    The bright orange color really cheers up the cold foggy days. Thank you!

  13. Connie

    An old Marylander told me that an ancient First Peoples remedy for a headache was to walk 7 times around a persimmon tree without thinking of a ‘possum. In Indiana we made persimmon pudding- sort of like pumpkin pie but wilder. There was a tree on the IU Bloomington campus in a little circle between the Botany building and the History building.

  14. elizabeth a airhart

    i was born in new jersey i havereal memories
    of this tree and yes all the good cooking
    now i live in florida and it is differnt
    i am 10 generations in america and i like
    to read about the plants my family
    lived with as they moved from the south
    then wagon train on west thank you

  15. fred patient

    Recipe for curing baldness: juice of one green persimmon and a pinch of alum, rub in.
    Doesn’t make hair grow just draws both sides together!

  16. tom | tall clover farm

    As a young boy in Alexandria, Virginia, we had a solitary and large American persimmon in our backyard. It was one fruit that taught me patience; picked a minute too early and your mouth would pucker to the point of turning inside out.

  17. Walt

    I’m surprised to see the fruit pointing upwards without a stalk. I love my ‘Hachiya’ Japanese persimmon and find it a lovely sight now with the myriads of orange ‘lanterns’ hanging down like so many pumpkins that Jack Frost thoughtfully hung. The reticulated bark is also to be admired now. For a member of the teak family/Ebenaceae, the wood is surprisingly brittle though in winter storms.

  18. wendy

    So what is the story with the “acorn shaped fruit” of Nancy’s? Is it the “elongated northern Florida” fruit of Bill Barnes or is it a different cultivar of Diospyros kaki which is pointy? And ‘Fuyu’ definitely sounds Japanese so is that a Diosporos kaki cultivar? And I never pay too much attention to Dirr’s aesthetic assessments….
    Why should the sap wood be more useful? Certainly the heartwood is stunning to view. Is it a result of brittleness? Ebony wood is extremely brittle to turn but nevertheless useful. Perhaps usefulness should not only be determined by wear but also by beauty. Back to aesthetics….

  19. Barb Mullinix

    I have a small group of these down near my creek, and I think their long, straight trunks are wonderful. I also have a Doberman bitch that cannot wait for them to start falling off the trees and gorges on them, even before they are ripe. Hard to understand when even the chickens don’t like them. I have given up trying to stop her.

  20. Michael F

    One I tried in Texas had very nice edible fruit, long before the first frost of the autumn. It isn’t invariably astringent!

  21. Jim I

    Persimmons are a natvie woodland tree locally in the Sourland Mtns and ridges of central west NJ. This tree is one of the first trees to be completely removed from new development sites. It is rarely identified and not saved for diversity by landscapers and landscape designers. It is considered an unattractive tree having no value. The deer browse saplings in the forest. Consequently, it is found only in pockets of undeveloped and wooded land.

  22. Doug

    Song Lyrics;
    Possum up a simmon tree
    Racoon on the ground
    Racoon asks that possum
    Won’t you shake them simmons down

  23. Judy

    There was a persimmon tree on my Grandma’s farm. I guess I was never told about the waiting until after the first frost because I didn’t understand why people thought they tasted so good. My Grandma did make some Christmas desserts with them. I would not remember what because I never ate it thinking it would taste bad. I also couldn’t believe when I saw them in the produce section years later for a very expensive price or at least I thought so. Now I would like to try them after the first frost and eat my Grandma’s Christmas dessert.

  24. Marie

    Euell Gibbons (“Stalking the Wild Asparagus”)suggests that the first frost has nothing to do with it – that it’s not the frost, but the time of year that is relevant. He experimented with freezing the persimmons, and found them just as tart as before.

  25. Denis

    Regarding the descriptions of the persimmons from Texas and Florida, I have seen another species described that is native to Texas. I do not know if this species is also the one described by Bill Barnes, but it may not be D. virginiana.
    I have a D. virginiana, a D. kaki and a hybrid D. ‘Nikita’s Gift’ growing in my orchard; however, they are not of bearing age. But their fall foliage, particularly on Nikita’s Gift, are spectacular. The color is predominantly orange grading to scarlet.
    If you want a fruit tree that has good fall color

  26. Sheila

    We have one of these in our garden. It is the most boring tree. I was about to grub it up. I now read this….
    “Fruit may be produced by 10-year-old trees but optimum fruit-bearing age is 25-50 years.”
    I will probably be dead before it fruits! Shame.

  27. mary

    Doug, thank you for posting the possum ditty. I had forgotten it, but I remember my daddy (I am southern) saying it to us.

  28. LYNDA

    Help! I’m not getting your email anymore and I really enjoyed it. Please put me back on the list. Thanks. Lynda

  29. sandra brouillette

    i planted a diospyros virginiana (native persimmon) tree about three years ago. i bought it at Lowes. It’s in the afternoon sun. Looks great but no flowers or fruit yet. What’s the deal?
    I, too, have beautiful memories of picking persimmons at my grandmother’s homeplace in church point, la. my friend from ville platte, la., suprised me with about 20 beautiful persimmons last week. as they ripen i eat them with a spoon…..tops sliced off and then dig in. yum! sandra

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