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Intro to Trees of Indiana: Persimmon

The classic and trusted book "Fifty Common Trees of Indiana" by T.E. Shaw was published in 1956 as a user-friendly guide to local species.  Nearly 70 years later, the publication has been updated through a joint effort by the Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Indiana 4-H, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and reintroduced as "An Introduction to Trees of Indiana."

A printed copy of the full publication is available for purchase for $7 in the Purdue Extension Education Store. The field guide helps identify common Indiana woodlot trees. 

Each week, the Intro to Trees of Indiana web series will offer a sneak peek at one species from the book, paired with an ID That Tree video from Purdue Extension forester Lenny Farlee to help visualize eachPersimmon leaf and fruit species as it stands in the woods. Threats to species health as well as also insight into the wood provided by the species, will be provided through additional resources as well as the Hardwoods of the Central Midwest exhibit of the Purdue Arboretum, if available. 

This week, we meet the persimmon or Diospyros virginiana, one of Indiana’s fruit producing trees.

The alternately held leaves of persimmon are oval shaped with smooth margins, with no lobes or teeth. The thick dark green leaves turn yellow or reddish-purple in the fall. The buds are dark colored, while leaf stems are light brown.

The bark resembles alligator hide with deep broken ridges, often with an orange coloring between the ridges.Persimmon bark

The fruit, a pumpkin orange colored fleshy plum-like fruit, is a standout characteristic and is favored by both wildlife and humans. Once it ripens and falls from the tree, persimmon is soft and sweet. If picked from the tree, this fruit can be green, very hard, gummy in texture and acidic. The seed count in persimmon is variable with some seedless varieties and some with as many as 10 seeds.

Persimmon trees, which grow 35 to 60 feet tall, are native to southern Indiana but can be found planted across the state. This species grows best in full sun and in moist, well-drained soils, but are tolerant of alkaline soil, clay, dry sites, and occasional drought. The natural range of the persimmon is the lower Midwest and southeastern United States reaching up into southern Illinois.Persimmon wood panel

The Morton Arboretum states that persimmon has no serious pest or disease issues, but root suckering can be a management problem.

The wood of persimmon is extremely dense and is used in shuttles for textile weaving due to its ability to become and stay very smooth and polished despite continued wear. Its smoothness, density and resistance to shock and wear have made the wood a good choice for making golf club heads, billiard cues, spools and bobbins. Persimmon wood may also be used in veneer for furniture.

Persimmon fruit is utilized in puddings, cookies, cakes, custard and other recipes.

Other Resources:
Hardwoods of the Central Midwest: Persimmon
ID That Tree: Persimmon
Morton Arboretum: Persimmon
Persimmons, The Education Store
The Woody Plant Seed Manual, U.S. Forest Service
Fifty Trees of the Midwest app for the iPhone, The Education Store
Native Trees of the Midwest, The Education Store
Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, The Education Store
Investing in Indiana Woodlands, The Education Store
Forest Improvement Handbook, The Education Store
ID That Tree, Purdue Extension-Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube playlist
Woodland Management Moment , Purdue Extension-FNR YouTube playlist

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