A Possum in the Persimmon!

With Arbor Day approaching, I thought it would be fun to look closely at one of the give-a-way trees by the Bartow Master Gardeners and probably the least known of these trees is the Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). Among the many names are American persimmon, common persimmon, eastern persimmon, simmon, possumwood, possum apples, or sugar plum. My brother-in-law in Chattanooga has dozens of Simmons scattered around his forest periphery and in the Fall they provide a beautiful orange backdrop. None of these trees are large although they reportedly can approach 100 feet tall – most are 10-25 feet and two to six inches in diameter.

Orange Fall leaves and promising fruit heighten the attractiveness of the Persimmon.
Persimmon trees work well in a residential landscape if pruned in the early years and given a well drained and sunny location.

Not only are Possumwood trees striking in Fall but the female trees (yes there are different sexes!) produce prolific orangish fruits that literally “suck in” the unwary as unripe fruits are full of tannin. Wait until they are ripe and then they are sweet and make pies, juice, jellies or eat them right off the tree. The bark is very distinctive. Large plates form a detailed checkered form similar but much larger that those formed by mature Dogwoods.

The large checkered bark makes the Persimmon easy to identify even in winter.
Wait until Persimmon fruit is fully ripe before sampling or they will give your idea of “puckering up” a new meaning.

As a residential tree, give them some room in a mostly sunny location or they will twist and turn searching for light and elbow room. Your new Sugar Plum may need to be pruned in early years to settle on a pleasing form and avoid the growth of sucker shoots and excess lower limbs. Fertilization isn’t necessary after the first few years and watering is important for all new trees but once established, “possum-apples” are drought tolerant and they do not like “wet feet”.

Why all the hints about possums? The American marsupial opossum loves ripe persimmons and will be drawn to your tree if any are in the woods nearby and they are in your woods! The possum is an ornery critter and once in your yard, he will look for pet food and possibly your garden delectables. Your dog will cautiously attack a possum and will circle repeatedly looking for an opening to lunge and avoid those viscous looking teeth. Once excited, the possum will have a fainting spell and pretend to die hoping the attacker will lose interest and prance away. I have fond memories of my “fierce” spaniel defending our family against a prowling possum and seeing her jump for joy as she “killed” the marauding , stinky invader.

Possum and Persimmon

There are several native American varieties of Persimmon but only the D. virginiana is found in the Southeast and in all probability that is the variety that will be given away on Arbor Day. You will not, however, know if you have a male or female tree for several years and persimmon fruit is only produced when both sexes are present although there may be amorous mates to your tree in nearby woods.

This is a Japanese variant of the Persimmon Tree and an attractive landscape addition.

Overall, the American Persimmon is an attractive tree and worthy of planting around your home but not too close as eventually a well-cared for tree will grow fairly large. Give it some space, some sun, and a little care when young, and the orange will reward you every Fall.

1 thought on “A Possum in the Persimmon!

  1. Hopefully we can get one for our upper 40!

    Sent from my iPhone



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