Common persimmon

Diospyros virginiana
Family: Ebenaceae

Natural Historycommon persimmon
Leaves and fruit of common persimmon
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Common persimmons are slow-growing trees that produce large edible fruits. The only other native persimmon of North America is called Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), and it occurs in Texas and northeastern Mexico. Its leaves are smaller and it has black fruits where Diospyros virginiana has larger leaves and orange to purple fruits.

Common persimmon is a relative of the highly prized true ebony tree (Diospyros ebenum). The ebony tree has black, hard, heavy wood, which has long been used to make expensive bowls, candlesticks, piano keys, and furniture.

Habitat & Range

Common persimmon grows in the moist, fertile soils of bottomland, hardwood hammocks, disturbed areas, pinelands, and sand ridges. Other species associated with persimmon include sycamore, red and sugar maple, loblolly, slash, and longleaf pines, yellow poplar, and several of the oaks and hickories. It grows in the eastern Unted States. between Connecticut and Iowa in the north and between southern Florida and Texas in the south. The largest persimmons grow in the fertile bottomland of the Mississippi River Valley.

The common persimmon grows on deep, rich bottomlands or on higher, sandy, well-drained soils.  It is usually found in association with many other hardwoods.  It is found from southern Connecticut and Long Island south to southern Florida; west through central Pennsylvania to southeastern Iowa, south to Texas. 

Wildlife Use

The fruits are valuable to wildlife including whitetail deer, raccoons, foxes, skunks, many birds, and small rodents.

Human Use

The fruit is edible but highly bitter, causing you to pucker your lips when you eat it. Therefore, people usually wait until after the first frost or when the skin is wrinkled and the pulp is mushy for a delightful taste. It is sometimes used in making wine. The bark is a source of an astringent compound that is used in medicine to check for discharge of blood or mucus. 

The dark brown wood is very strong, hard, and heavy and used for specialty items such as golf club heads. It is not considered economically important because it yields an inferior grade of lumber.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Common persimmon is a medium-sized tree that reaches heights of 40 to 60 feet and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. It has a spreading zigzag branching pattern that forms a broad round crown. It becomes a shrub at the north end of its range. Toward the limits of its range it is a shrub.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous. They grow 4 to 6 inches long by 2 to 3 inches wide. The oblong shaped leaves usually have shiny, leathery, dark green upper surfaces while the underneath surface resembles a stained-glass mosaic pattern of paler green. The leaf base is wedged or rounded and the leaf tip is acute. The leaf margin is entire and somewhat wavy. Leaf petioles are stout, about 1 inch in length.
Twigs: The twigs are slender, glabrous or pubescent, and somewhat zig-zagging. The pith is homogeneous or diaphragmed.
Bark: The dark gray to grayish-brown bark is thick with short furrows forming square block ridges that may resemble alligator skin. The inner bark turns yellow when exposed to air.
Flowers: The common persimmon is a dioecious species. Flowers hang from the twig.
Fruit: The fruit is a large, round, orange or purple berry that is ¾ to 2 ½ inches in diameter. It has smooth skin that wrinkles with ripening and is edible. The berries are several-seeded.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
  • Black cherry also has alternate, simple leaves, but the margin on those would be serrate.
  • The leaves of flowering dogwood have a similar shape, but they are opposite instead of alternate.

 

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