Common Persimmon - Diospyros virginiana
Ebony Family (Ebenaceae)
Persimmon is native throughout Kentucky in dry woodland settings. The fruit is an important wildlife food and is edible. The wood from old trees is very hard and has been used to make golf clubs. The Kentucky champion tree is in Ballard County and is over 75 feet tall.
- Native habitat: Connecticut to Florida, and west to Texas and Kansas.
- Growth habit: Slender, oval-rounded form; usually has a symmetrical outline.
- Tree size: 35 to 60 feet tall, 20 to 35 feet wide.
- Flower and fruit: Flowers are white to greenish white and are shaped like blueberry flowers. The tree blooms in late April. Fruit is a yellowish to pale orange berry that is 1 to 1½ inches across. Fruit, which is edible, ripens in September or October. It is delicious when ripe, but highly unpleasant before ripening.
- Leaf: Alternate, simple leaves are 2 1/4 to 5½ inches long, and 3/4 to 2 inches wide. Leaves are dark green in summer but have little or no fall color other than occasional purple blotches.
- Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 4.
Common persimmon was introduced into the landscape in 1629. It is often found along fence rows and in abandoned fields. The tree suckers profusely and often forms naturalized stands. Before ripening, persimmon's fruit is not edible.
The fruit is edible, but it is not ripe until the skin is wrinkled.Ripe persimmons are said to taste a great deal like dates. They are used to make cakes, puddings and beverages. Native Americans used the fruits to make bread, and also dried them. Fruit is an important wildlife food. However, the fruit can present a litter problem in the landscape. It is slimy, so when used in the city the tree should be planted where fruit will not fall on sidewalks, where it can cause people to fall. The plant is dioecious, so a male (fruitless) tree would be a much more acceptable landscape plant than the female.
Immature fruits contain a large amount of tannin and are astringent. They have been used to make tea for use in gargling for sore throats. The tea was also used to treat warts, cancers, heartburn, diarrhea and stomach aches.
Cooking oil, with a flavor like that of peanut oil, can be extracted from the seeds. Confederate soldiers boiled persimmon seeds as a coffee substitute during the Civil War.
Persimmon wood is very hard and nearly black. It is used to make golf club heads, billiard cues and parquet flooring.
Diospyros means "fruit or wheat of the gods;" virginiana means "from Virginia." One common name, possum wood, was given to the tree because opossums love its fruit.