With only six mature specimens, the American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is one of the rarest native trees in Central Park. The New York City area and a few locations in western Connecticut are at the persimmon’s extreme northern range. Persimmons are in the family Ebenaceae, which includes the valuable and often over-harvested tropical hardwoods commonly referred to as ebonies.
American persimmons are found in wet lowlands, but are also common on drier land. They will often form large thickets or colonies of connected suckers sprouting from the roots of larger trees. The trees are frequently dioecious, with female and male flowers produced in May and June respectively, on separately sexed trees. The flowers are small but showy, with a white urn-shaped corolla and four yellow lobes. The flowers are pollinated mainly by long-tongued bees. The trees normally reach a height of 30 to 50 feet, but individuals over 100 feet have been recorded. The bark of a mature American persimmon develops into a dark, deeply ridged network of small square or rectangular blocks. The leaves are egg-shaped and often turn an attractive orange to scarlet during the fall.
The most striking feature of the American persimmon is its fruit. Often referred to as a plum, the fruit of the persimmon is actually a large berry containing up to eight seeds. American persimmon fruits will often persist on the tree until the late winter and are quite helpful as a winter identification tool.
Many people are familiar with the imported Asian persimmon (Diospyros kaki), which can be found in many United States supermarkets. American persimmons are grown commercially in the southern United States and hold a place in southern food traditions. The fruit is also consumed by raccoons, foxes, and white-tailed deer, and is a favorite of the opossum. Avian feeders include catbirds, wild turkeys, cedar waxwings, and northern mockingbirds.
The six mature American persimmon trees and dozens of saplings can be found on the east side of the Ramble in Central Park, surrounding a small grassy hill area nicknamed the “Persimmon Lawn” and across from the Loeb Boathouse.