Eastern Shore Food Lab

Diospyros virginiana - American Persimmon

Diospyros virginiana is beautiful and delicious tree that serves many functions both in the garden and in the kitchen. 

Scientific Name: Diospyros virginiana
Common Name: American or common persimmon
Plant Family: Ebenaceae (Ebony family)

Etymology: Diospyros comes from the Greek words dios (divine) and pyros (wheat or grain) and together they translate to “divine fruit” or “fruit of the god Zeus.” 

Edible Parts

The persimmon fruit, which usually ripens in fall, is often used in jams and baked goods. The fruit pulp can be turned into molasses and the seeds can be turned into a peanut-like oil or roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Dried leaves make a great tea high in vitamin C. The roasted seed can even be used as a coffee substitute. Overall, Diospyros virginiana is a very versatile, edible tree! 

Historic Uses

The Cherokee and Rappahannock used Diospyros virginiana to treat sore throat and mouth, indigestion, thrush, bloody bowels, and toothache. They usually made the plant into a syrup or chewed on the bark.

Habitat

You can expect to find Diospyros virginiana growing in moist soil such as on sandy lands, shales, and muddy bottomlands. It prefers well-drained soil and it is best to plant them in a sheltered area, for they are tender saplings.  

How to Identify

The persimmon tree is lanky and often has large open spaces between branches. The persimmon fruit resembles an orange plum and is ripe once it can easily fall off the tree. The leaves have smooth edges, are shaped like teardrops, and are in an alternate arrangement. Diospyros virginiana has grey-black bark with an odd, blocky texture that looks a little like reptilian skin.

Additional Information

The wood of Diospyros virginiana is very strong and often used to make golf club heads, shoes, and billiards. If you harvest unripe persimmons (ripe persimmons are very sweet, soft, and wrinkled), you can throw them in a bag with some bananas or apples and this will speed up the ripening process because those fruits naturally exude ethylene gas!

Planting Considerations

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Native Range: Eastern United States
  • Forest Garden Layer: canopy
  • Permaculture functions: would grow well in a rain garden, could function as a rootstock because of its strong trunk, could help prevent erosion.
  • Soil moisture: moist
  • Soil texture: can grow in sandy, loamy, and clay soils, prefers well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: can grow in acidic, neutral, and basic soils
  • Height: 35-60 ft
  • Spread: 25-35 ft
  • Growth rate: medium
  • Sun: full sun to part shade
  • Bloom: yellow and green from April-June
  • Attracts: birds, butterflies, honey bees
  • Tolerates: drought, air pollution, shallow soil, clay soil, changing pH
  • Drawbacks: leaf spot could occur, in late summer they could suffer from severe defoliation from webworm—this makes for poor fruit; usually dioecious, requiring multiple trees for pollination. 

Sources

  • Meredith, Leda Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2014.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1998.
  • Thayer, Samuel Incredible Wild Edibles: 36 Plants That Can Change Your Life. Bruce, Wisconsin: Forager’s Harvest Press, 2017.

Web Sources