Wednesday, January 21, 2015

American Persimmon. Diospyros virginiana. 1.21.15

Image source:  Plant 
Diospyros virginiana L.
Catesby, M., The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, vol. 2: t. 76 (1754)
From "Today in History" via the Library of Congress,

On the afternoon of December 16, 1864, Union troops led by General George H. Thomas devastated Confederate forces at Nashville, Tennessee. The battle had begun the day before when Thomas initiated an attack after waiting some two weeks for troop reinforcements and favorable weather.

In November, in an effort to cut off General William T. Sherman's supply line, Confederate General John B. Hood, led the Army of Tennessee out of Alabama and toward Nashville. One of Hood's men remembered the grueling march from Atlanta to Nashville. "After the fall of Atlanta," Confederate veteran Milton Cox told his son John:

we marched northward into Tennessee over frozen ground and how cold it was! Our shoes were worn out and our feet were torn and bleeding…the snow was on the ground and there was no food. Our rations were a few grains of parched corn. When we reached the vicinity of Nashville we were very hungry and we began to search for food. Over in a valley stood a tree which seemed to be loaded with fruit. It was a frost bitten persimmon tree, but as I look back over my whole life, never have I tasted any food which would compare with these persimmons.

19th Century Persimmon tree, Lima Lake, Illinois   Source Univ Chicago.

 Credit line for image:  American Environmental Photographs Collection, [AEP Image Number, e.g., AEP-MIN73], Department of Special Collections, University of Chicago Library.

The image is not dated.  Either late 19th century or eary 20th century.  

American Persimmon is a native American tree, range extending through the old South, northeast to Connecticut, northwest to southern parts if Illinois, and northern Missouri, southwest into NW Texas.

The photo at left is at Lima Lake, Illinois.  I recall my Dad talking about Lima Lake, which was then considered a "swamp", and now would be called a wetland.  The wetland covered an expanse of 10,000 to 12,000 acres near Quincy, IL, the town where my dad spent his life, and where I was born and grew up.   I remember being told that persimmons were bitter, astringent fruits, not suitable for eating.  So never tried one.  I missed out.  A truly ripe persimmon is almost like juicy candy.

Best growth of persimmon was known in the Mississippi river valley, which explains why my Dad was aware of them.

I am interested in some of the native American plants and trees, especially those that might have grown where I grew up.  That is even though I don't live there, and haven't for many years.

Those plants and trees seem somewhat taken for granted.  There are few native American fruit trees - pawpaw, some plums,  and a few others.  Persimmon is also one, known to native Americans, eaten by them, and described in early European colonial works.
Natural range of American Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana.  Source:

Source for map image:  JSTOR

Other names for persimmon included  "simmon, possumwood, and Florida persimmon,".  I only knew them as persimmons.

As for growth of American persimmon, they are difficult to transplant at a large size, due to taproot.  Because of that difficulty, some nurseries offer trees at small size, and grow them in specialized tall, narrow, open bottom tree containers.  That is how the persimmon tree came to me from Burnt Ridge Nursery.

From US Silvaculture manual, "Approximately 50 percent of the total radial growth is complete in 70 to 90 days, and 90 percent complete in 100 to 109 days after growth starts in the spring (6). Persimmon responds well to fertilizer."  Based on that info, it seems to me that small persimmon trees should be given nitrogen fertilizer early in Spring or late Winter.  In my yard, that means pee-cycling then.  My tree is just a small sapling.  Other references state not to fertilize, but I think that fertilizing sapling trees might give them a boost, then stop when they are bigger.  The issue with excess nitrogen is it can cause fruit drop.  Fruit drop is not a concern until the trees reach bearing size.

 Also according to the silvaculture manual, trees take a long time to bear, may start in 10 years.  However, seedling trees of most tree species need to go through a maturation process, that is already accomplished in the scion of grafted cultivars.  Because of grafting, the maturation process is skipped, so they may bear - guessing - in 3 to 5 years.  I think the main challenge is getting them large enough, fairly quickly.  The manual also states, "Common persimmon grows in a tremendous range of conditions from very dry, sterile, sandy woodlands to river bottoms to rocky hillsides and moist or very dry locations. It thrives on almost any type of soil but is most frequently found growing on soils of the orders Alfisols, Ultisols, Entisols, and Inceptisols".  I don't know what those soil types mean, but have copied them for future reference.
Image source

Maritime Pacific NW climate is quite different from the provenance of American persimmons.  I think there are still a lot of unknowns.  However, others have grown them here, and they are available at local mail order nurseries such as Burnt Ridge, Raintree, and One Green World.  The difference in climate is not more than, say, the difference for kaki persimmons, or figs, or peaches, apples, pears, from their origins.

Also from the manual, best growth  "is in areas that receive an average of 1220 mm (48 in) of precipitation annually, about 460 mm (18 in) of which normally occurs during the growing season. Over the range of persimmon, the average maximum temperatures are 35° C (95° F) in the summer and -12° C (10° F) in the winter."    The climate here has a dry summer, most rain being in fall / winter / spring.  Both summer and winter are milder than midwest.   The climate here could be more suitable, or less, or no significant difference, compared to native provenance.

My goal is get the tree off to a good start.  Provide mulch, water well the first couple of summers, provide adequate nitrogen the first couple of years at the right time, and see if we can get a good burst of growth so I have a taste in my lifetime.

The variety that I purchased is reported as not requiring a male pollinator.  If, some time, I find some scion for male persimmon, I may graft them onto either this tree or Saijo, or Nikita's Gift, to produce viable seeds.  That is not a priority for me.

According to One Green World Nursery, "American Persimmon can be grown in all but the coldest regions of the U.S. American Persimmon fruit is ready to eat when it is soft like a tomato... American Persimmon trees are easy to keep at 10-12 ft. in height with pruning."

 The variety I planted is Yates, which is apparently also  called Juhl.  As I recall, this variety originates in Indiana, is larger than most others, and has a darker orange color. 


  1. The black and white photo is very nice of a mature tree. The drawing with the squirrel is nice too. I wish I'll have room for a tree like that. I hope your tree will start growing soon but the weather still is very cold here.

  2. I really enjoy those old botanical illustrations and historic photos. It's nice there are some in the public domain. They give us a close-up of the ideal appearance of the plant, but often with touches such as disease or insect damage.

    It's too warm here right now. I wonder if things will start growing, then be freeze killed. I will try not to think too much about it.