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Virtues: American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is an eastern US-native tree with ornamental and edible appeal. It is a hardy, problem-free, medium-size tree that produces two-inch fruits that ripen to bright orange in the fall. These are attractive to birds and other wildlife, and they can be used in jams, jellies and desserts. The thick, dark gray block is segmented into blocks, making this an interesting and easily identifiable tree in the winter.
Common name: American persimmon, possumwood, common persimmon, eastern persimmon, possum apple
Botanical name: Diospyros virginiana
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Flowers: Small, fragrant, greenish-yellow flowers appear in late spring. Male and female flowers occur on separate trees, so one of each is needed for fruiting.
Fruit: One- to two-inch-round fruits follow flowering and will ripen to bright orange or dark red in the fall. Prior to ripening they are very astringent, but once ripe they have a sweet flavor. The fully ripe fruits are very soft and not suitable for shipping, so the way to experience them is to grow your own. They can be eaten fresh or used in jellies, jams, puddings, pies and other sweet recipes.
Foliage: The long oval leaves are dark green through summer and then turn a warm yellow in the fall. Deciduous.
Habit: American persimmon is variable in size depending upon the conditions in which it grows. In a garden setting, it typically reaches between 35 and 60 feet tall, with a spread of 25 to 35 feet. It may spread by suckers to form a thicket.
Origin: Dry woods, clearings and old fields of the American Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and South.
How to grow it: Plant American persimmon in full sun or part shade. It is best in well-drained, sandy soil with regular moisture, but it can adapt to other soil types and it tolerates drought. If spread is unwanted, remove suckers when they appear. USDA Zones 4–9.
An American persimmon tree would be a good candidate for an ornamental landscape or wildlife garden, but it's also a fine choice for a "food forest"—a landscape based on trees and perennials with edible elements. If you're interested in exploring food forests and permaculture gardens, I recommend reading The Food Forest Handbook by Darrell Frey and Michelle Czolba.
Image credit: Katja Schulz/CC BY 2.0