Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

Diospyros virginiana L. Botany

(common, or American persimmon)

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Picture of branch with persimmons
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The genus Diospyros

The species Diospyros virginiana

Common names

Anatomy

Kingdom: Plantae
   Division: Magnoliophyta
      Subdivision: Magnoliophytina
         Class: Rosopsida
            Subclass:Dilleniidae
               SuperOrder: Primulanae
                  Order: Ericales
                     Suborder: Ebenineae
                        Family: Ebenaceae
                           Tribe: Diospyreae
                              Genus: Diospyros
                                 species:
Diospyros virginiana L.


The genus Diospyros belongs to the Ebenaceae, also known as the ebony family.  Diospyros is a Greek derivation (Dios = god, pyros = wheat or grain) meaning "grain of god" and you'll see translation variants such as "grain of Jove", "wheat of Jove", and many more. literal variants  However, the translation of a fruit being referred to as grain is obviously far too literal.  We have to remember that scientific names often run a bit more loosely that literal translation of Greek and/or Latin because literal interpretations between languages may not be possible.    Additionally, most of the scientists naming organisms through the last several hundred years have not exactly been language scholars.  Thus Diospyros is more generally taken to mean "fruit of the gods". 

Diospyros
encompases roughly 450 species, mostly in the tropics.  There are two species in this genus which are native to the United States, D. virginiana (common, or American persimmon) and Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon, Mexican persimmon, black persimmon; and in the southern portion of its range: chapote, chapote manzano, chapote prieto).  

Diospyros virginiana

Synonyms :  Diospyros mosieri S. F. Blake.  

D. virginiana L., was first scientifically described by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus (also known as Carl von Linné, or Carolus Linnaeus) in 1753. 

Go to the Linnean herbarium to see the remaining herbarium sheets of Diospyros virginiana which are still held in the Swedish Museum of Natural History.  Though a type specimen was not designated by Linnaeus, it does appear in his landmark work from 1753, "Species Plantarum", Volume 2, page 1057.  Additionally, the work of the Linnaean Typification Project has resulted in two specimens (Clayton Number 632, and Clayton Number 80) from the John Clayton Herbarium being designated as syntypes.

COMMON NAMES:

"Persimmon" has its origins in the Algonquin language family, and thought to be from the Cree and Delaware words  pasiminanpessamin, or putchamin, (depending on the dialects) meaning "dried fruit" (see below).  Diospyros virginiana is usually referred to as the common persimmon, or American persimmon. 

The first written record of the common name "persimmon" referring to Diospyros virginiana, was made by British Army Quartermaster  Nathaniel Shrigley in 1669.  His text only mentions persimmon on page 4
(note: the format slightly changed for brevity):
"The Country is naturally full of Vines, Fruit Trees, and Timber, As, F. Mulberries, F. Plumbs, F. Persimmons, F. Cherries, M. Beach, T. Chesnut, T. Poplar, T. Pine, Sasifrax, T. Cedar, T. Cypress, Sycamore, T. Wallnut, Pekickery, Sasiperella, T. Ash, Holly, T. Elder, Locust, T. Hasle, Oaks A. T., White, Red, Black, Chesnut, Spanish, Gum Trees being cut, runns Balsome, with many others."


In 1896, W. R. Gerard notes:
"PERSIMMON (Diospyros Virginiana).-This name, from the time of the earliest settlers, has been variously spelled: pushemin, pichamin, pessemmin, putchamin, puchamine, parsemena, persimena, pissmien, putchimon, pitchumon, phishimon, persimon, possimon, pishamin, parsimmon and persimmon. The last-mentioned orthography, the one now adopted, was first used in 1669 by Shrigley. As stated under the word Chinquapin, the suffix men means 'fruit'.

The prefix, varied 'push', 'pers', 'puch', 'poss', etc., is susceptible of several interpretations, but I think that it can be safely referred to the Algonkin root 'pos', varied dialectically to 'pash' and 'pes', meaning primarily "to penetrate," whence the twofold meaning of "to fill up" and 'to choke.' The word would thus, in its original form, have meant 'chokefruit,' a very apposite name in view of the nature of the berries, which, when not fully ripe, are, as Strachey observes, "harsh and choakie, and furre in a man's mouth like allam."

New York. W. R. Gerard."


However, there were (and are) many common names for this species, including:


English Common Names

In other languages:


American ebony
Amerikansk dadelblomme (Danish)

American persimmon
Amerikansk kaki (Danish)

bara-bara
caqui común (Spanish)


Caqui silvestre (Spanish)

boa-wood
caqui de Virginia (Spanish)
butterwood
edree`  (Catawba - for the actual fruit)
common persimmon
Helles Ebenholz (German)

date plum
Eastern persimmon
guayacán de Virginia (Spanish - Spain)
Florida persimmon
pessimmon
piakmine
possumwood
Gúajacana (on these two herbarium sheets: 1, 2, from the George Clifford Herbarium )

possum tree

ougoufle (by "Louisiana natives" in Sturtevant, 1919)
simmon
pasiminan, putchamin,  pasiminan (Algonquin: Cree and Delaware dialects)

white ebony
persimone (German)
Virginia date palm

plaqueminier  d'Amérique (French)
Virginia plum

Plaqueminier de Virginie (French)

Tomely (Czech)
White settlers: Putchamis,

Virgiinia diospüür (Estonian)
persimon in the early herbarium sheets by Clayton

Virginische Dattelpflaume (German)


yedere`' (Catawba - for the actual plant portion)

It should be noted that several early common names for Diospyros virginiana were also used around the world for other members of the genus.  For example, while early writings use the phrase "date plum" to refer to the North American persimmon, date plum is usually meant to refer to Diospyros lotus from Asia and Europe.

D. virginiana is a medium-sized deciduous tree growing to a rough average of 80 feet.  Big persimmon trees are not uncommon.  Leaves are green during the growing season.  In Autumn, the leaves turn various shades of red or yellow.  Fruits ripen from early Fall into Winter.  Some fruits may persist on the tree until the following Spring.  The fruit is the largest true berry produced by a tree species native to the United States.


ANATOMY:

Root: deep tap roots

Trunk:  typically slender, wood is very hard, dense, and strong, sapwood is whitish to yellowish, heartwood is brownish to
black.

Bark: thick, dark gray to black and distinctly divided into "blocks" by deep furrows, often described as having an appearance
similar to the skin on an alligator's back.

Twig: slender, brownish-gray with ****triangular**** buds

Buds: somewhat triangular buds, with three outer scales. Terminal buds are absent. Flowers are dioecious. Fruit is a large,
juicy berry

Leaf: deciduous, simple and ovate to elliptical with smooth edges.  Leaves pinnately veined and are arranged alternatively on
the branch.  They have a single bundle scar.  They are glabrous (smooth and hairless), glossy and dark green above.  The
underside is pale green.

Flower: dioecious (male and female on separate trees), though some mosaics are known.  Female flowers are bell-shaped, yellowish-green to creamy white,  fragrant.  Male flowers are more tubular and greenish-yellow. 

Fruit: large (1-2 inches) fleshy berry with several flattened seeds. Unripe fruits are green, then yellow, and mature to
a deep purplish-orange. They may have a reddish-to-purplish blush.  Fruits are high in tannins and astringent when unripe,
but maturing slowly to lose the astringency.  The calyx usually remains with the fruit when it drops or is picked.  Fruit is persistent, sometimes well into winter or lasting until spring.

Seeds: usually 2-8 flattened ovoid seeds.

Habitat: persimmons grow in a wide range of conditions, and in most communities.  The native range is an area roughly a little larger than the southeastern quadrant of the United States.  However,  judging from the number, size and vigor of trees, the best conditions for this species are found in river bottoms and on stream terraces.  


BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Gerard, W.R. 1896.   Plant Names of Indian Origin III.  Garden and Forest, 9: 438 (July 15, 1896), pp. 282-283

Shrigley, Nathaniel.  1669.  A True Relation of Virginia and Mary-land; with the Commodities therein, which in part the Author saw; the rest he had from knowing and credible persons.  London, (this was first made widely available in 1844 by Thomas Milbourn for Thomas Hudson Book-binder, living the next door to the Signe of the Blew-Boar in Redcross Street, London. 8 pages. 3: No.7

Sturtevant, Edward Lewis. 1972. Sturtevant's edible plants of the world edited by U.P. Hedrick. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY. vii, 686 p. (reprint of the 1919 edition of Sturtevant's notes on edible plants. New York Department of Agriculture 27th Annual Report, Volume 2, Part II. J. B. Lyon Co., Albany, NY.)