Many areas of the Southeast are slowly but surely starting to show signs of autumn and I couldn’t be more thrilled! As I crossed over the Alabama River yesterday, I saw many trees that were already showing brilliant red and gold foliage. One tree in particular stood out in my mind; the persimmon. Along with beautiful fall-colored leaves, this tree is also very beneficial to the wildlife this time of year. I will describe the tree’s common characteristics, favorable habitat, and uses.
The persimmon, which is part of the Ebony family (Ebenaceae), is the only tree of its family that is native to the U.S. More specifically, it is most commonly found in the Southeast and can stand between 70 and 80 feet tall and lives for up to 200 years! The bark of this tree can sometimes be confused with the flowering dogwood; however the leaf shapes are completely different. The persimmon or Diospyros virginiana is classified as a pioneer species which simply means that it is one of the first species to take root at an abandoned site. This tree is commonly an understory tree but can also survive in full sun. It produces flowers in spring and the fruit begins to ripen in the fall after the first frost. The leaves in the fall will be a yellowish green color, but can also appear to be purple!
As I previously stated, this species thrives well in full shade or full sun. It also flourishes in a variety of soils from dry to very wet. Sometimes, persimmon can be found in large thickets. You can tell if the tree is in a poorer soil because the branches will be twisted and ugly.
Some of you may be familiar with the wives tale involving a persimmon seed. The story goes that you can cut a persimmon seed in half and based on the shape of the kernel, you can predict the weather for the upcoming winter! If it is a spoon, you will be shoveling a lot of snow. If it looks like a fork, you will experience a mild winter and if you see a knife, an extremely cold, icy winter is on the way. Don’t even waste your time in Alabama, I’m sure all the persimmon seeds look like forks and will look that way for years! As for actual uses of the persimmon tree, its fruit is relished by white-tailed deer! Even if the fruits are still bitter and have not ripened up yet, the deer will still pick off every fruit they can reach. Wild turkeys also delight in the fruit and raccoons and opossums have also been known to sneak a persimmon every now and then. This tree is especially preferred by bow hunters because deer will seek out a persimmon if the acorns are scarce. The wood of the persimmon was once used to make golf club heads too!
The persimmon is not only recognized for its beautiful fall foliage, but also for its wildlife benefits and weather forecasting (ha-ha). Many cultivars of this tree are available at nurseries all over the southeast and can easily be transplanted in a food plot or around the house as an ornamental (it usually takes about six years before they start producing fruit). As you travel down highways or the interstate, see if you can pick out the purple leaves of a persimmon!
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