Written by Kristina Jensen
There is a rare and fascinating tree whose native range is just outside of Nebraska. Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. is a deciduous tree that can be found growing in dry woodlands, limestone glades, prairies, thickets, abandoned fields and along roadsides.
In spring, tiny yellow bell-shaped flowers adorn newly leafed-out branches. The foliage is dark green and glossy above, paler below. It turns buttery-yellow in autumn, infrequently reddish-purple. One to two-inch berries change from green to yellow to dark orange in color before maturing in late fall. Dark, alligator back-like bark maintains interest through the winter.
The fruit is edible and can be rather astringent before a flavor-taming frost. It has a wonderful pumpkin-like flavor and can be used in breads, puddings or other baked goods.
The persimmon has a variety of uses outside of the ornamental landscape. Its suckering growth habit can be utilized for naturalized areas and erosion control. Its fruit makes it a perfect choice for wildlife plantings and for human consumption. The pulp can be used in a variety of baked goods, syrups, jellies and ice cream. The seeds have been used as a coffee substitute; the leaves can be brewed for a tea; the flowers are useful in honey-making. A relative of ebony, persimmon wood has also been valued in the production of textile shuttles, golf club heads and parquet flooring.