Pucker Up

Spring chores of tilling, fertilizing and planting a garden may be long vanished from your to-do list, but Mother Nature is still busy producing her own late-season garden. A wide variety of wild edibles are produced late in the year, and one of the most anticipated is the ripened fruit of the persimmon tree.

The common persimmon tree, Diospyros virginiana, is one of only a few species of the family Ebenaceae living in the United States. The genus name is derived from two Greek words—Dios, which refers to the Greek god Zeus, and puros, referring to wheat. The less literal translation means “food for the gods.” The common name appears to have originated from the Lenape Indians. They referred to it as “pasimenan” which we now call persimmon.

Thick-skinned & hard-hearted

The persimmon tree is native to the eastern United States, with a range from east Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana; east to Florida, north to Massachusetts, and west to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and eastern Kansas. Persimmon trees can be found in fields, fencerows, ditches and many other unwelcoming environments. They form thickets by spreading from sucker roots, much like the common sassafras tree. In fact, they are commonly found growing among sassafras and eastern red cedar trees in dry locations. New habitats are colonized when they are planted outside of their native area as commercial or ornamental trees.

A persimmon tree typically ranges in height from 35- to 60-feet tall and can spread up to 35 feet wide. They grow largest on sandy, clay soils in bottomlands, and the record reached 132 feet tall with a 37-foot spread.

Persimmon trees produce some of the hardest wood known. Osage orange is the only producer of harder wood in North America. The heartwood of a persimmon is dark blackish-brown on mature trees, and is often used to make the heads of golf clubs, billiard cues and patterned flooring. It can take more than 100 years for the sapwood to turn to heartwood. The wood is very close-grained and can weigh up to 53 pounds per cubic foot when dry.

The bark of a persimmon tree is hard, thick and dark gray-black in color. It is textured in unique, square, scaly blocks and can develop to more than 2 inches thick. Many people compare it to alligator hide in texture and appearance.

Persimmon trees are rarely attacked by insects or damaged by animals. They are, however, vulnerable to ground fires