Diospyros virginiana, the American persimmon, is known by a variety of names including common persimmon, 'simmon, and possumwood. This range of this tree is roughly that of the Southeastern United States. Its ranges from New England to Florida, and west to Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The tree grows wild but has been cultivated for its fruit and wood since prehistoric times by Native Americans.
D. virginiana grows to 20 meters (65.62 ft), in well-drained soil. The tree produces fragrant flowers in summer, the flowers are dioecious so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. The flowers are pollinated by insects and wind. Fruiting typically begins when the tree is about six years old.
The fruit of the American persimmon is round or oval. The fruit color is usually orange, ranging to black. In the American South and Midwest, the fruits of the American persimmon are referred to as simply persimmons or "'simmons", and are popular in desserts and cuisine. Fruit size varies from 2 - 6 centimeters (0.79 - 2.36 inches).
Commercial varieties include the very productive Early Golden, the productive John Rick, Woolbright, and Miller and the Ennis–seedless variety. Another nickname of the American persimmon, the 'date-plum', actually refers to a variety of persimmon found in South Asia, Diospyros lotus.
Small tree usually varying from thirty to eighty feet in height, short slender trunk, spreading, often pendulous branches, which form sometimes a broad and sometimes a narrow round-topped head. Roots thick, fleshy and stoloniferous. Given to shrubby growth.
The tree has oval entire leaves, and unisexual flowers on short stalks. In the male flowers, which are numerous, the stamens are sixteen in number and arranged in pairs; the female flowers are solitary, with traces of stamens, and a smooth ovary with one ovule in each of the eight cells—the ovary is surmounted by four styles, which are hairy at the base. The furit-stalk is very short, bearing a subglobose fruit an inch or rather more in diameter, of an orange-yellow color, and with a sweetish astringent pulp. It is surrounded at the base by the persistent calyx-lobes, which increase in size as the fruit ripens. The astringency renders the fruit somewhat unpalatable, but after it has been subjected to the action of frost, or has become partially rotted or "bletted" like a medlar, its flavor is improved.
Its fossil remains have been found in the miocene rocks of Greenland and Alaska and in the cretaceous formation of Nebraska.
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 eaten in great quantities in the southern states of America, and is also fermented with hops, corn-meal or wheat-bran into a sort of beer or made into brandy. The wood is heavy, strong and very close-grained and used in turnery.
The tree is greatly inclined to vary in the character and quality of its fruit, in size this varies from that of a small cherry to a small apple. Some trees in the south produce fruit that is delicious without the action of the frost, while adjoining trees produce fruit that never becomes edible.
It was brought to England before 1629 and is cultivated, but rarely if ever ripens its fruit. It is easily raised from seed and can also be propagated from stolons, which are often produced in great quantity. The tree is hardy in the south of England and in the Channel Islands.
In respect to the power of making heartwood, the Locust and the Persimmon stand at the extreme opposite ends of the list. The Locust changes its sapwood into heartwood almost at once, while the Persimmon rarely develops any heartwood until it is nearly one hundred years old. This heartwood is extremely close-grained and almost black. Really, it is ebony, but the North American climate is not favorable to its production. The ebony of commerce is derived from five different tropical species of the genus, two from India, one from Africa, one from Malaya and one from Mauritius. The beautiful variegated coromandel wood is the product of a species found in Ceylon.
It is a common misunderstanding that persimmon fruit needs frost to ripen and soften: some persimmon fruit will easily loose astringency like the early ripening variety "pieper" and "NC21"(also known as "supersweet") which even becomes completely free of astrigency when slightly soft at the touch, these are then very sweet, even in British climate. On the other hand, there are varieties like the very large fruited "yates" which is a late ripening variety that will practically never loose astringency even when then fruit has eventually become completely soft (at least in British climate). Frost however destroyes the cells within the fruit which then causes the fruit to rot instead of ripen. Only completely ripe and soft fruit can stand some frost, it will then dry and become even sweeter...hence the misconception that persimmon fruit needs frost to ripen. The same goes for the oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki) where early frost can severely damage a fruit crop.