Persimmon

Diospyros virginiana

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Illustration of persimmon leaves, branch, fruit.
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Paul Nelson
Edible
Family

Ebenaceae (ebonies)

Description

Persimmon is a medium-sized tree, varying in size and shape with growing conditions.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 2–6 inches long, 1–3 inches wide, broadest at the middle; margin lacking teeth; upper surface pale green, shiny; lower surface paler, smooth to somewhat hairy. Somewhat leathery.

Bark is distinctive: dark brown to black, grooves deep, ridges broken into thick, square to rectangular blocks, resembling alligator hide.

Twigs are slender, gray to reddish-brown, somewhat zigzag; pores orange; end bud absent.

Flowers late May–June, with male and female flowers on separate trees. Male flowers in clusters of 2–3, greenish-yellow, urn-shaped; female flowers solitary, urn-shaped with tips curved back, greenish-yellow to creamy white, fragrant.

Fruits September–October. Fruit orange to orange-purple, about ¾–1½ inches long and wide, globe-shaped; sweet, edible when ripe. Prior to ripening, astringent and puckery to taste.

Size

Height: to 60 feet; to 30 feet in open-grown situations, where it has a shorter trunk.

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Persimmons
Although ripe persimmons offer a sweet treat, one bite of an unripe persimmon will make you pucker.

persimmon.jpg

Photo of persimmon leaves
Persimmon
Persimmon leaves are alternate, simple, lack teeth, and are somewhat leathery.

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Photo of persimmon fruit on branch with leaves.
Persimmon Fruit and Leaves
Persimmon fruits ripen September-October.

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Photo of a nearly ripe persimmon on a branch
Persimmon On Branch
Many people debate about how to tell when a persimmon is truly ripe.

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Photo of some ripe persimmons in a bowl.
Ripe Persimmons
Most people agree that our native persimmons taste best when they get so soft the skin starts to sag and the pulp is getting mushy.

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Photo of a ripe persimmon split open, showing texture
Ripe Persimmon Split Open
The rather mushy texture of persimmon pulp suggests a variety of culinary uses.

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Photo of persimmon branch with ripening fruits.
Ripening Persimmons in St. Louis Region
Persimmon fruits are ripening in the St. Louis Region, Oct. 3, 2016
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in rocky, dry, open woods, edges of woods, glades, prairies, old fields, thickets, bottomland woods, and valleys along streams. It is generally not recommended in urban landscapes, despite its many good qualities; it is difficult to transplant, it has a tendency to sucker, and the fallen fruit can be messy.

image of Persimmon distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, except for northwestern counties.

Human connections

Native Americans, explorers, settlers, and others have all enjoyed the edible fruit. The fruits are notoriously astringent if they are eaten unripe. The dried leaves can be made into tea. The wood is used for golf club heads, textile shuttles, billiard cues, and brush handles.

Ecosystem connections

A very important wildlife food. Fruit, buds, and leaves are eaten by deer, opossum, squirrel, bobwhite, raccoon, wild turkey, red and gray fox, and coyote. Many birds eat the fruit. A pioneering tree in disturbed landscapes, it plays an important role in reestablishing a mature ecosystem.