Main Article : Persimmon
Diospyros virginiana is a persimmon species commonly called the American persimmon, common persimmon, eastern persimmon, “‘simmon”, “possumwood”, or “sugar-plum”. It ranges from southern Connecticut/Long Island to Florida, and west to Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa. The tree grows wild but has been cultivated for its fruit and wood since prehistoric times by Native Americans.
Diospyros virginiana grows through 20 m (66 ft), in well-drained soil. In summer, this species produces fragrant flowers which are dioecious, so one must have both male and female plants to obtain fruit. Most cultivars are parthenocarpic (setting seedless fruit without pollination). The flowers are pollinated by insects and wind. Fruiting typically begins when the tree is about 6 years old.
The fruit is round or oval and usually orange-yellow, sometimes bluish, and from 2 to 6 cm (0.79 to 2.4 in) in diametre. In the U.S. South and Midwest, the fruits are referred to as simply persimmons or “‘simmons”, and are popular in desserts and cuisine.
Commercial varieties include the very productive Early Golden, the productive John Rick, Miller, Woolbright and the Ennis, a seedless variety. Another nickname of the American persimmon, ‘date-plum’ also refers to a persimmon species found in South Asia, Diospyros lotus.
The peculiar characteristics of its fruit have made the tree well known. This fruit is a globular berry, with variation in the number of seeds, sometimes with eight and sometimes without any. It bears at its apex the remnants of the styles and sits in the enlarged and persistent calyx. It ripens in late autumn, is pale orange with a red cheek, often covered with a slight glaucous bloom. One joke among Southerners is to induce strangers to taste unripe persimmon fruit, as its very astringent bitterness is shocking to those unfamiliar with it. Folklore states that frost is required to make it edible, but fully ripened fruit lightly shaken from the tree or found on the ground below the tree is sweet, juicy and delicious. The peculiar astringency of the fruit is due to the presence of a tannin similar to that of Cinchona. The seeds were used as buttons during the American Civil War.
The fruit is high in vitamin C. The unripe fruit is extremely astringent. The ripe fruit may be eaten raw, cooked or dried. Molasses can be made from the fruit pulp. A tea can be made from the leaves and the roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute. Other popular uses include desserts such as persimmon pie, persimmon pudding, or persimmon candy.
The fruit is also fermented with hops, cornmeal or wheat bran into a sort of beer or made into brandy. The wood is heavy, strong and very close-grained and used in woodturning.