Shawnee News-Star Gardening October 18th 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg Do not give me a Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki).   Wait for frosty weather and present to me the native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).   This fruit may be much smaller, but the texture is meatier and the flavor so intense and magnificent.   Persimmon trees can be easily identified [...]

Shawnee News-Star Gardening October 18th 2017

Persimmon with Tent Caterpillars

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Do not give me a Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki).   Wait for frosty weather and present to me the native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).   This fruit may be much smaller, but the texture is meatier and the flavor so intense and magnificent.   Persimmon trees can be easily identified right now by webby tents woven by the tent caterpillars along the branches or decorated in round greenish fruits now turning a deep orange as they ripen.

Although over 2,000 Chinese cultivars exist, about 20 species are edible.   We have two native edibles, the common persimmon and the Texas persimmon that grows in river valleys of southwest Texas down into Mexico.   Most of our natives are smaller, but in good conditions the persimmon can reach 60 feet.

Wherever I am during the autumn, I hunt for a persimmon tree.   Some good specimens grow outside Hot Springs, AR, the Botanic Garden in Tulsa and even Avon, N.C. on the Outer Banks had a few resilient persimmon trees. This northern most member of the tropical Ebony family is concentrated in the Mississippi River Valley.   The tree grows throughout the eastern half of Oklahoma west to the Wichita Mountains and even in the valleys in northwestern Oklahoma.   Some species in the Ebony family have very dark, hard wood prized for use in cabinets, musical instruments and piano keys.   Persimmon wood is dense but lighter and makes fine golf club heads and pool cues.

Patches survive where I live, but my next door neighbor, one of the original settlers, said during the development of our neighborhood most the persimmons were pulled out or cut.   She remembered the low hills covered with thick stands of persimmon trees and plentiful turkeys, deer, bobcats and other wildlife.   Persimmon wood is often called possumwood.   Care to guess why?   Some consider the trees worthless and clear every persimmon from their land. Idiots.

The Arkansas Nations which included the Quapaw, Caddo and Osage in the Mississippi region called the persimmon 'piaquiminia.'   The French crowned it piakimine.   The Delaware and Cree Nations referred to it in Algonquin dialect as putchamin, pasiminan, and pessimin (all mean dried fruit) leading to the English version, pessimine, which eventually became persimmon. Yes, persimmons make tasty fruit leather, but the fruit is also incorporated into breads, sauces, puddings and pies.   Even the seeds can be brewed to make beer (still done today in Appalachia) or ground for coffee (during the Civil War.) Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson valued the persimmon and either preserved or planted several on their plantations.

Fork, knife, and spoon?

Speaking of seeds, for years the persimmon seeds have often been heralded as weather predictors.   Grasp a flat seed (with a pair of pliers) and slice the seed lengthwise.   The light-colored embryo will be revealed inside surrounded by the darker nourishing endosperm.   You can just make out the baby leaves and stalk. If the embryo is shaped like a knife, the wind will cut like a blade; a spoon indicates lots of snow to shovel and a fork shows a mild winter with dry snow.

Unripe fruit and the bark have an abundance of tannins (surpassed the oak tree and acorns) useful in the early leather industry. Pucker power.   If you actually like unripe persimmons, woe be to you.   Although rare, certain veggie fibers in the alimentary track can pack together into masses called bezoars.   Persimmon bezoars are known as Diospyrobezoars and apparently persimmons are notorious for this behavior. I want to know who would actually eat unripe persimmons.

Good for us and good for wildlife, the persimmon trees grow individually or in groves of clones identical to the original.   Most persimmon trees are dioecious and produce male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, although there are a rare few that have perfect flowers with all the necessary sexual ingredients.   The fruit is actually a berry and when easily detached or falls from the tree is probably ripe and full of delicious glucose.

Don't cut your persimmon trees.   Do plant new ones in your yard.   They are great trees with their 'taco' leaves, open canopy, interesting textured bark and phenomenal fruit.

Our gardening article series concludes October 25th and the persimmons and I now bow out.   Tom Terry will close out the 2017 season. Cold nights and frosts are right around the corner. Time for action.   Check and protect your outdoor babies and move your tender plants indoors.