American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

American Persimmon, Common Persimmon, Date Plum, Eastern Persimmon, Jove's Fruit, Persimmon, Possum Apples, Possumwood, Simmon, Winter Plum

The American Persimmon, also known as Diospyros virginiana, is a beautiful and versatile tree that can be found in many parts of the United States. With its striking foliage, delicious fruit, and hardy nature, it is no wonder that this tree is a popular choice for many homeowners. However, in order to keep your American Persimmon healthy and productive, it is important to understand its specific needs and how to care for it properly.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Diospyros virginiana is a persimmon species commonly called the American persimmon, common persimmon, eastern persimmon, simmon, possumwood, possum apples, or sugar plum. It ranges from southern Connecticut 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.

The common persimmon is a generally small to medium sized tree, usually 30 to 80 feet (9 to 24 m) in height, but reaching 115 feet (35 m) west of the southern Mississippi. It has a short, slender trunk and spreading, often pendulous branches, which form a broad or narrow, round-topped canopy. The roots are thick, fleshy and stoloniferous. The species has a shrubby growth form. The plant 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 fruit-stalk is very short, bearing a subglobose fruit an inch in diameter or a bit larger, of an orange-yellow color, ranging to bluish, and with a swedish 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.

  • Bark: Dark brown or dark gray, deeply divided into plates whose surface is scaly. Branchlets are slender, zigzag, with thick pith or large pith cavity; at first light reddish brown and pubescent. They vary in color from light brown to ashy gray and finally become reddish brown, the bark somewhat broken by longitudinal fissures. Astringent and bitter.
  • Wood: Very dark; sapwood yellowish white; heavy, hard, strong and very close grained. Specific gravity, 0.7908; weight of cubic foot, 49.28 lb (22.35 kg). The heartwood is a true ebony. Forestry texts indicate that about a century of growth is required before a tree will produce a commercially viable yield of ebony wood. The termite resistance of the wood is attributed to the component 7-methyl juglone.
  • Winter buds: Ovate, acute, one-eighth of an inch long, covered with thick reddish or purple scales. These scales are sometimes persistent at the base of the branchlets.
  • Leaves: Alternate, simple, four to six inches (152 mm) long, oval, narrowed or rounded or cordate at base, entire, acute or acuminate. They come out of the bud revolute, thin, pale, reddish green, downy with ciliate margins, when full grown are thick, dark green, shining above, pale and often pubescent beneath. In autumn they sometimes turn orange or scarlet, sometimes fall without change of color. Midrib broad and flat, primary veins opposite and conspicuous. Petioles are stout, pubescent, one-half to an inch in length.
  • Flowers: May, June, when leaves are half-grown; diœcious or rarely polygamous. Staminate flowers borne in two to three-flowered cymes; the pedicels downy and bearing two minute bracts. Pistillate flowers solitary, usually on separate trees, their pedicels short, recurved, and bearing two bracelets.
  • Calyx: Usually four-lobed, accrescent under the fruit.
  • Corolla: Greenish yellow or creamy white, tubular, four-lobed; lobes imbricate in bud.
  • Stamens: Sixteen, inserted on the corolla, in staminate flowers in two rows. Filaments short, slender, slightly hairy; anthers oblong, introrse, two-celled, cells opening longitudinally. In pistillate flowers the stamens are eight with aborted anthers, rarely these stamens are perfect.
  • Pistil: Ovary superior, conical, ultimately eight-celled; styles four, slender, spreading; stigma two-lobed.
  • Fruit: A juicy berry containing one to eight seeds, crowned with the remnants of the style and seated in the enlarged calyx; depressed-globular, pale orange color, often red-cheeked; with slight bloom, turning yellowish brown after freezing. Flesh astringent while green, sweet and luscious when ripe.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Persimmons grow best in full sun, but partial afternoon shade is tolerated, especially in hot climates. Plant persimmon trees in an area receiving enough daily sunlight through autumn as the fruit ripens.

Temperature and Humidity

American persimmons are cold-hardy and heat-tolerant. These trees tolerate some humidity but require proper air circulation and protection from strong winds.

Watering

Keep young Common Persimmon trees healthy by keeping their soil consistently moist. Once trees mature, they should be watered whenever the top two inches of their soil dries out.

Soil

Persimmons grow relatively well in most soil types, even tolerating heavy clay or dry soils. This tree is drought-tolerant once established and needs well-draining soil to prevent root rot, fungus, or other soil-borne diseases. Persimmon trees grow best in loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH.

Fertilizing

In addition to well-draining, loamy soil, persimmons don’t require much additional fertilizer if starting with a healthy growing environment. After establishing, if a persimmon tree begins to develop mature leaves with less foliage or color, add a slow-release balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer during late winter or early spring.

Pruning

Persimmon trees need very little pruning, but to help control their shape, cut back the branches when it is dormant during the late winter or early spring. Pruning young persimmon trees help maintain a healthy branch structure, which will support the tree when bearing fruit clusters, as it can become heavy and snap the branches. Corrective pruning—removing dead, broken, or diseased branches—will also help build a solid foundation. When pruning after the fruit-bearing season, cut the stems back one-third.

Propagation

The best way to duplicate a persimmon tree is through cuttings. Here’s how to propagate a persimmon tree to get a clone of the parent tree: 

  • In autumn, before the first frost, water the persimmons tree deeply one to two days before taking cuttings. 
  • Use a sharp pruning shear or knife to cut a five-to-six-inch stem. Use trees with mature shoots, at least one year old, and select a side shoot from the main branch. 
  • Cut a vertical one-to-two-inch slide into each hardwood cutting and place it in a sealed plastic bag to retain moisture. 
  • Plant hardwood cuttings in a container filled with potting soil. Use a mix of perlite, sand, peat, and vermiculite in a well-draining container. 
  • After watering the potting soil, cover the cuttings with a plastic bag to enhance the humidity. 
  • Keep the soil moist and place the container in indirect sun or under an incandescent light bulb. Give plants at least 12 hours of total daily sunlight. 
  • After roots develop, transplant the persimmon cuttings once the last front passes. Gradually expose the cuttings to the outdoor environment until the roots are strong enough to plant in their final location.

Grow from Seed

Harvest seeds from fully ripe persimmon fruit or purchase from a garden center. After harvesting seeds, soak them in water for three days and remove any remaining flesh. Place clean seeds in a damp paper towel and seal them in a glass or plastic container before putting them in the refrigerator for about three months. This cold exposure, or stratification, helps overwinter the seeds. 

Use a seed starting tray or another tall container with proper drainage to plant multiple seeds two inches deep in potting soil. Keep the tray in an area of at least 70°F and wait six to eight weeks for seedlings to emerge. Keep the well-draining soil moist and in a bright, warm room. 

When the last frost passes, start gradually exposing seedlings to outdoor elements until it’s time to transplant them to their final location. Dig a hole four times the span of the roots to ensure they have plenty of room to expand. When planting, do not fertilize, but mulch around the tree, leaving a perimeter of a few inches around the tree trunk to avoid moisture accumulation. They only need watering if the area is going through a drought and don’t require pruning at the time of planting. Expect fruit from persimmon trees grown from seed in about three to five years.

Potting and Repotting 

Persimmons growing in a pot or container should be repotted with fresh soil every two or three years. Plant at the same depth as the disposable pot you received, and use a potting mix that will stay loose around the root system. Make sure to opt for a container that can hold the plant but with room to spare for future growth. Keep the container well-drained, as with just about any potted plant. Water when needed, but take special care not to over water as it can lead to root rot.

Overwintering

Persimmon trees are cold-hardy and can tolerate temperatures of -25°F. Protect persimmons grown in containers by moving them to a heated garage or another area indoors protected from harsh weather like the wind. Adding a layer of mulch around the roots will help insulate the tree during the winter. Composted wood chips or straw, a slowly decomposing mulch, is best around trees.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Persimmon trees are relatively pest and disease free. Some pests, like mealybugs and ants, occur, but neem oil can treat this infestation. Use a non-toxic and all-natural oil to salvage the fruit. 

Other diseases, including crown gall and leaf blight, might occur. Crown gall is a soil-borne disease presenting rounded growths on the tree’s branches and roots. Bark wounds can also encourage crown galls from taking root. Leaf blight is a fungal disease that appears as black spots on the tree’s foliage. The disease begins near the bottom of the tree and spreads if left untreated. In particularly humid conditions, leaf blight can spread from spores to new foliage or through leaf litter during its dormant season. Treat with a fungicide.

Common Problems 

Curling Leaves

Curling persimmon leaves signifies an aphid-like pest on the foliage. While the damage is primarily superficial, it can also prevent future growth. Keep this issue under control by applying horticultural oil in late winter or early spring. Additional pests called scale and blister mites weaken persimmon foliage, making it more prone to disease.

Leaves Turning Yellow

When new persimmon leaves turn yellow, the main reason is a soil pH imbalance—older leaves might remain dark green. Check the surrounding growing area’s pH and adjust the tree’s soil to be slightly acidic to neutral. Add sulfur and spray leaves with a water-based solution depending on the soil type.

Flowers Falling Off

Depending on the persimmon variety, flowers can take up to five years to emerge. It takes even longer for trees to bear fruit, often up to 10 years for American Persimmon trees. Both primary types of persimmon trees have alternate years open, meaning you’ll have a more significant fruit production one year, followed by a below-average fruit bearing. Another reason that persimmon trees do not bloom is that they lack phosphorus. Amend the soil with a bone meal mixture around the tree to resolve this issue.

III. Uses and Benefits 

The fruit is high in vitamin C, and extremely astringent when unripe. It is eaten by birds, raccoons, skunks, white-tailed deer, semi-wild hogs, flying squirrels, and opossums.

The ripe fruit may be eaten raw by humans, typically once bletted, or cooked or dried. The fruit pulp can be made into pie, pudding, jam, molasses, and candy. An herbal tea that can be made from the leaves and the roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute.

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. Its heartwood, which may take a century before being produced, is a true ebony, extremely close-grained and almost black; it is not harvested commercially.

The seeds were used as buttons during the privation of the American Civil War in the South.

American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) Details

Common name American Persimmon, Common Persimmon, Date Plum, Eastern Persimmon, Jove's Fruit, Persimmon, Possum Apples, Possumwood, Simmon, Winter Plum
Botanical name Diospyros virginiana
Plant type Edible
Hardiness zone 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Growth rate Slow
Harvest time Fall
Height 30 ft. 0 in. - 80 ft. 0 in.
Width 30 ft. 0 in. - 80 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Gold/Yellow
Leaf color Gold/Yellow