Alamo Area Master Naturalist Jessica Leslie is the author of this piece.
A TREE OF MANY RESOURCES
The Texas Persimmon is a tree of profuse benefits and uses. It is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, wildlife-friendly, and quite an attractive ornamental-size tree. Yet few people voluntarily use it in their landscapes. Maybe you will change your mind when you learn more about it.
The Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana) is a semi-evergreen shrub or small tree growing as much as fifteen feet in height. It is found in dry, rocky areas of central, west, and south Texas. The persimmon’s most distinctive trait is the very smooth, gray bark of its trunk and branches that often grow in varying directions and twists.
Assume you are on any of our many Natural Area trails. Can you identify the Texas Persimmon from where you are standing? It has simple, alternate, one to two-inch-long, small, dark green, oval-shaped leaves with smooth edges that are slightly rolled under. The leaves are somewhat leathery on top and fuzzy underneath.
Here is the catch! The Texas Persimmon is a prolific reproducer! It can rapidly establish a motte of trees, especially in disturbed areas or rocky hillsides. Of course, if you are on a rocky hillside, you might have plenty of deer to eat the foliage and fruit, keeping the plant somewhat in check. If you have the tree planted amid a thick, regularly mowed lawn, you will probably not have a big issue. Either way, it is a very worthy tree.
Persimmons are dioecious, having male & female reproductive organs on separate plants. The small, cream-colored, bell-shaped flowers occur in the spring, and although they are not considered showy, they are sweetly aromatic. The female tree produces a round, one-inch fruit that starts out green (as seen in the photo) but ripens to black by late July to September. To the human taste, the skin is bitter and should be removed before use. This tasty fruit is used to make puddings, jellies, and even wine. Some cook it with breads and muffins. Is there a female Texas Persimmon nearby? Look for the characteristic fruit in summer.
PROVIDES WILDLIFE FOOD & COVER
It is not only humans who enjoy the fruit. The Texas Persimmon is a valuable wildlife plant, providing food and cover for many animal species. Birds nest and perch in the tree and gladly eat its fruit. Numerous mammals such as opossums and raccoons also feast on the fruit, and deer and goats browse the leaves. The leaves also serve as a larval host to the Gray Hairstreak and Henry’s Elfin butterflies. Its flowers are a desirable source of nectar for bees and various insects, which in turn provide an additional food source for birds.
Other uses have been found for this important tree. Historically the hard, black heartwood of a mature tree was used for making furniture, piano keys, and tool handles. Native Americans used concentrated juices from the fruit to dye animal hides. With so many uses, you could call it the “giving tree”.
BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE TREE
Because of its low water needs and tolerance for both sun and shade, people use the tree as an ornamental in landscapes. Can you see the aesthetic quality in the smooth, gray bark of the trunk and branches of the Texas Persimmon tree? Even when the tree is actively shedding its bark, it provides an artistic touch to your landscape. Perhaps next time you are looking for a shrub or small tree for your yard, you will realize the numerous benefits of planting the native Texas Persimmon. You will be able to enjoy its beauty in all seasons. You will be supplying food and cover for many native wildlife, providing you with many enjoyable hours to observe nature up close. What’s not to like about the Texas Persimmon?