[NAFEX] This tree bears fruit worth the wait (Fort Worth Star Telegram)

Brungardt, Sam Sam.Brungardt at state.mn.us
Mon Apr 26 10:08:27 EDT 2004

	Posted on Sat, Apr. 24, 2004	  	

This tree bears fruit worth the wait

By Kerry Kellam
Special to the (Fort Worth, Texas) Star-Telegram

When I was about 6 years old, my best friend handed me what looked like
a juicy little plum and said I should take a bite.  I fell for one of
the oldest tricks in the world.  That was my introduction to diospyros
virginiana, the common persimmon.  True, persimmons are nutritious and
can be quite tasty.  When ripe.  I learned this later.  But still, it
would be quite a few years before I could bring myself to try another

The early European settlers were also put off by the taste of this
little fruit that is so common in the woods of eastern North America.
Capt. John Smith wrote, "If it be not ripe it will draw a man's mouth
awire with much torment; but when ripe, it is as delicious as an

It was a local tribe of American Indians, the Algonquins, who explained
to the hungry settlers that the bitter taste of "pessamin" (their word
for it, and thus ours) went away as cold weather approached.  And none
too soon for the settlers, as food of any kind was hard to come by those
first few winters.  Of course, the industrious pioneers wasted no time
in using the persimmon to help pass the long winter nights, noting that
it "yields on distillation, after fermentation, a quality of spirits."

Persimmon is a member of the ebony family of trees, which are mostly
found in the tropics.  Two species are native to North America.
Although the tropical ebonies are famous for their lumber, the North
American trees don't attain a size that compares to these, though they
do produce a small quantity of usable wood.

The Texas persimmon, or "chapote" as it's known along the border, bears
a small fruit that turns black when ripe and is used to make a black
dye.  It's edible but is more seed than fruit.  This tree is
underutilized in the landscape.  It has an interesting bark that curls
and appears to peel off as the tree matures.  The smooth inner bark
varies in color from gray to white with splashes of pink.  Because of
its compact size, it works well in small spaces and is tolerant of high
temperatures.  Its deep root system makes it a good candidate for
low-water-usage landscaping.

Another persimmon also seen occasionally in the landscape, diospyros
kaki, is from China.  This one lives up to the botanical name diospyros,
which is Greek for "food of the gods."  Introduced to the United States
in 1855 by Commodore Perry, who brought some back from Japan, the kaki
not only makes an attractive tree but also is capable of producing a
prodigious amount of fruit.  High in vitamin C and beta carotene, and
loaded with potassium, the fruit deserves a more prominent place on the
American dinner table.  The tree looks like something out of a fairy
tale, with large dark green tropical leaves and dark, nearly black bark
contrasting with brightly colored fruit.

Kenneth, a reader in North Texas who recently e-mailed me, described one
in his garden quite elegantly, saying, "the fruit is delicious and the
tree's appearance with the brilliant fruit glowing in the late autumn
after all the leaves have fallen is quite spectacular."  But still, take
my word for it: Don't eat a persimmon until it's ripe.


Kerry Kellam is a certified arborist. He can be reached at (817)
266-0117 or iknowtrees at aol.com. 
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