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Native Plant Profile: Persimmon

Photo of: Tree bark

Persimmon bark; photo by Steven J. Baskauf

Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is a high wildlife value tree in the persimmon family (Ebenaceae). The genus name, Diospyros, literally translates to “Fruit of the Gods,” but when unripe, the fruit can be quite distasteful! This large fruit tree can grow up to 80 feet in height and prefers partial to full shade environments. It grows best in well drained soils, but can also persist in dry or moist soils, as well as within sterile soil environments. Persimmons can be found throughout much of Maryland, aside from Garrett County.

Persimmon 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. In autumn, the leaves sometimes turn orange or scarlet in color. The bark is distinct. It is dark brown or grey in color and is divided into scaly plates.

In May and June, persimmon trees flower. The tubular flowers are yellow or creamy white in appearance. Most persimmon trees have either male or female flowers. Therefore, both a male and female tree are needed to set fruit. Persimmon pollinators include honeybees, bumblebees, little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), digger bees (Anthophora spp.Synhalonia spp.), mason bees (Osmia spp.), leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.) and cuckoo bees (Nomada spp.).

The fruit is a rounded berry that ripens in mid-late fall. When mature, the fruit is yellow to orange in color with a waxy, pale outer coating. The edible fruits are sought after by humans and animals alike. One note of caution: while orange persimmons on a tree may look ripe, if they do not come off the tree with a slight tug, fall off on their own or undergo a freeze then they generally are not edible to people. Unripe persimmons are very astringent and, to quote Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons, “It tastes like burning.” I personally can vouch for the terribly tart and puckering sensation caused by biting into an unripe persimmon!

Left: Persimmon flower, right: Persimmon fruit; photos by Steven J. Baskauf

Persimmons are sometimes planted due to their hardy nature, but occasionally they can be hard to find. More than 45 butterfly and moth species, including the Luna moth, lay their eggs on persimmon trees. Species like bear, deer, coyote, fox, raccoon, opossum, quail, squirrel, wild turkey and others have been known to consume the fruit.

Photo of: Green luna moth

Luna moth; photo by Kerry Wixted

Sources: Illinois WildflowersUnited States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service

Author’s Note

Welcome to the fall edition of the HabiChat, our quarterly backyard wildlife habitat newsletter from the Wild Acres program. Fall is my favorite time of year. This issue is dedicated to a native fruit tree known as the persimmon, explains why opossums are awesome and lists recommended plants for fall pollinators. In addition, there is a small piece on sowing fall seeds and two new citizen-science projects you may want to check out.
If there is a particular topic that you would like to see included in a future edition, please don’t hesitate to let us know. Happy Habitats!

Kerry Wixted

Also in This Issue:
Backyard Wildlife Fun: Tracks!
Citizen Science: Bats, Butterflies and Moths
Fall Seed Sowing
Fueling Fall Pollinators
Native Plant Profile: Persimmon
Native Wildlife: Virginia Opossum

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Photo of: Common Buckeye on Goldenrod; HabiChat Vol. 22, No. 1