By Dave Keane
As you venture out in the woods this time of year, you can still enjoy some native tree crops from our Eastern Forests. The American Persimmon, Diospyros Virginiana is a native deciduous medium sized tree that produces an edible fruit that is enjoyed both by humans and wildlife to include foxes, opossums, racoons, deer and various bird species.
The genus, Diospyros, means “fruit of the Gods” referring to the sweet orange colored fruit that graces the tree in the fall and early winter. Growing up we were told that a hard frost is needed to ripen the fruit. This is rarely the case. Individual fruits will ripen at different times throughout the fall and into early winter. Fully mature fruit will be soft to the touch, wrinkled and sometimes jelly like. American Persimmon fruit is high in tannins until they are thoroughly ripe. Persimmons will remain on the tree even after all the leaves have fallen.
American Persimmon trees are usually dioecious (male or female) but some are self-fertile. The fruits can vary in size from ¾” to 1 1/2’” in diameter. Cultivars and Asian varieties which produce larger fruit can be found in nurseries. The amount of fruit produced on wild trees, will vary from season to season.
The tree has simple, alternate leaves that are four to six inches long and are oval in appearance. The leaves are thick and dark green above and pale on the underside. The bark is dark brown or grey in color and is divided into scaly plates.
Unripe fruit is extremely astringent, and if you have ever eaten an American Persimmon that isn’t ripe, you will never forget that feeling of your face puckering up or the person who convinced you to eat the fruit.
Seeds require about three months of cold moist stratification to germinate. If planted in the fall, they should come up the following spring but make sure to protect them against squirrels.
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