The Tree Journal – American Persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana)
by Patrick Harper - Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust
Diospyros Virginiana is more commonly known as American Persimmon. It is found throughout the eastern United States and as far west as Texas. Additionally, humans have cultivated its fruit and wood since prehistoric times. I often find these trees at the edges of fields in small groups. The trees in my area usually reach no more than 30 feet in height.
American Persimmon is a small tree, usually reaching no more than 20 meters in height. It has a slender trunk with dark brown or grey bark which is usually divided into thick plates. Oval leaves alternate and are generally four to six inches long. In the spring they are dark green, but tend to develop splotches in late summer or early fall. During the fall, the leaves turn orange or scarlet. In fact, persimmon leaves are often the first to drop during the fall months.
Diospyros Virginiana is dioecious. This means that each plant is either male or female. At least one plant of each sex must be present to produce fruit. The tree usually produces small white flowers in May or June. If pollination occurs, the tree produces berry-like fruit containing one to eight seeds. The fruit starts pale orange and often migrates towards a brown color after freezing. When green, the fruit is extremely astringent. However, ripe fruit is very sweet and quite delicious. When ripe, the fruit is soft with a thin skin. Inexperienced foragers might mistaken ripe fruit for having gone bad. I find that if the fruit falls from the tree with a gentle shake, it is usually ready to be eaten.
Use for Woodworkers
American Persimmon is semi-ring porous with straight grain. The sapwood ranges from white to pale yellow-brown. Since the tree is mostly sapwood, consider it to be perishable and susceptible to infestation. Despite this, the wood is hard and dense. Consequently, it is often used in golf-club handles, tool handles, and other turned objects. Unfortunately, it is not widely available at lumber yards, so prices are usually high. However, small blanks can often be found at retailers for turning.
Stay tuned. I will detail another species in a week or so. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have a tree you would like me to detail.