What kind of winter will we have this year? The weather has been confusing for months, so why not investigate the persimmon seeds and see what they predict. This is a project I really went deep into: deep into woods, deep into grass, deep into overripe persimmon mush. Well worth the sacrifice.
I love native persimmons. If it’s October, wherever I am, I hunt for those orange balls in the sky covering the “Tree of a Thousand Suns.” I have feasted on persimmons in Arkansas, Missouri, Maryland, the eastern half of Oklahoma and even the Outer Banks of North Carolina where the barrier islands regularly get swamped with seawater and hurricanes. This tough tree is scientifically named Diospyros virginiana, which translates to either fruit of the god or fire of the gods. Probably depends on the ripeness of the fruit.
Most of the 750 different species of persimmons are members of the Ebony family tropical. The wood is dark, very hard and used in furniture, driver golf heads, drum sticks, and billiard cues. Our native American persimmon is the tallest of all the persimmon species, ranging from 35 to nearly 70 feet in height.
Male persimmon trees produce scented small clusters of bell-shaped greenish-yellow flowers in early spring. The females issue single flowers. Then there are those trees that make perfect flowers with both male and female parts. The persimmon refuses to follow the rules, but the bees and pollinators flock to the blooms regardless.
The glossy, leathery leaves of the persimmon are relished by not only by white-tailed deer but the larvae of the Luna moth and Hickory Horned Devil moth (Regal moth). If you have ever seen that caterpillar, you’d not forget it. Over 4 inches long and bright green, orange appendages curve out from the back of its orange head. The tail end is also orange. The caterpillar is entirely harmless and banks on its fierce appearance to keep it safe from predators that visit persimmons, hickories, sweetgums, pecans and sumacs.
Dr. Tyrl often said persimmon leaves, when folded, look like tacos. The distinctive dark gray outer layer of the trunk is formed from chains of thick bark broken into chunky squares and rectangles. This is one tree that can be identified in winter after the leaves have fallen. That plus some dried fruit may still be hanging on. Skunks, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, quail, mockingbirds, cedar waxwings, turkeys, fox and other critters devour the fruits.
Native persimmon trees are considered pioneer species. As open fields transition toward woodlands, the slow-growing persimmon is an early colonizer which forms thickets. It can tolerate the black walnut which usually eliminates other plant competition. The persimmon forms a deep taproot, making it difficult to transplant. Most persimmon trees on the market are oriental. The natives are harder to find, but much more robust than the Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki).
Seed Propagation: Take fresh persimmon seeds and soak in warm water a few days to help remove the dried flesh (or store in a cool, dry place until later). Wrap the seeds in moist paper towels and put in plastic jar in fridge 2-3 months. Keep the paper dampish. Next spring, bury each seed 2 inches deep in potting soil. Use tall pot with drainage holes. Place in warm, bright location. Keep soil dampish. If you’re lucky, since germination of persimmon seeds hovers around 30%, small seedlings will appear in 6-8 weeks. Good idea to plant several seeds in separate pots. Water the little guys each week, but wait until the soil dries a bit at the top each time. Transplant seedlings at the end of the growing season in autumn. Mulch. Fruit comes after 3-5 years.
What did this year’s seeds say? It appears the little embryos look like spoons, which translates to shovels and lots of snow. Knives mean cutting sharp winds and a dry winter, but what if the embryos are hybrid butter knives? Does that mean some snow and cold winds? If fork shapes appear, expect a mild winter with light snow. Farmer’s Almanac forecasts a parade of snow storms across the northern US, but OK and TX shall have a pleasant winter. What is pleasant?
David Payne, Meteorologist for OKC Channel 9 thinks our winter weather will have average to slightly below average temperatures, average precipitation, average snowfall and arctic air off and on as the Polar Vortex surges back and forth. We’ll be hit by winter blasts both early and at the end of the season. What is average?
This is the last article for the 2019 Gardening Series. Tom Terry, Linda Smith, Lisa Hair and I hope we have enlightened and given each of you inspiration and ideas not only for this year but 2020.